A MASSIVE Solar Storm SLAMS into Earth! Bring on the AURORA!
The Earth is no strange to cosmic radiation and solar storms. That is, after all, why we have an atmosphere that protects us from such things. Still, these types of events can wreak havoc on our power grid and GPS systems as the electromagnetic nature of them interferes with our own.
The sun had the bean burrito for lunch and on Sunday night it released a massive blast of magnetic plasma. This blast traveled much faster than usual and was picked up by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It caused the largest solar storm since September 2005.
Of course, it was nothing compared to largest solar storm ever, but we’ll get to that momentarily.
Bring on The Aurorae!
These storms aren’t all bad though, they usually cause lights in the sky known as Aurorae. One of the astronauts on the International Space Station caught a glimpse of the phenomenon and snapped a few incredible photos from space:
So what causes this incredible displays? It has to do with the upper levels of our atmosphere. The red color is a result of Nitrogen gas being excited at a molecular level, which gives off the red color you see in the photos. These events can also cause disruptions in electronics or GPS though, so they’re not all sunshine and auroras.
Luckily according to the astronaut who took the photos, Scott Kelly, the space station is well shielded by the Earth’s magnetic field and by its own shields, so they weren’t affected by the storm. We managed to get out of this one without any issues, but what if there’s another storm like the one we had in 1959?
The Carrington Event
This is one of the most popular solar storms in history. It occurred in 1859 during solar cycle 10. The name comes from the people who spotted the “white light flare” in the sun’s photosphere which caused the storm to occur. The flare was observed by Richard C. Carrington and Richard Hodgson.
Studies have shown that such an event would ravage our modern society. It would cause widespread issues with electronics and probably fry just about everything in your home regardless of whether or not it’s plugged in. A similar event occurred in 2012, but the storm passed through our orbit without hitting the planet.
This massive storm caused Aurorae to be spotted as far south as the Caribbean, which is incredible given that they are usually only seen very far north or south. In fact, the lights over the Rocky Mountains were so bright, that coal miners thought it was morning and got up to start working!
A study in June of 2013 showed that such an event would cause damages in the U.S. totaling anywhere from $0.6 to $2.6 Trillion! Let’s hope the sun decides to stick to a more mild diet. Solar storms are all well and good, but we just want the light show, not a total blackout.
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