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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Northern Lights live feed: See the Aurora Borealis after the solar storm

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These constantly updating images from Yellowknife show you a panoramic view of the night sky and any Northern Lights that show up tonight. The feed is from AuroraMAX and the Canadian Space agency. Go to their site for more information. Don’t see anything? The Aurora appears in waves and might take a few minutes to come back.

A solar storm zapped Earth on Friday but caused few, if any, problems. It also allowed more people to see the colourful northern lights.

Space Weather Prediction Center forecaster Chris Smith said the storm left the sun on Wednesday and first arrived on Earth at 9:55 a.m. EDT, and will continue disrupting the magnetic field through Saturday. It will likely only be noticed by specialized equipment.

He said it was a strong hit for Earth — the biggest since June last year. But he said the strongest of the energized particles went just above Earth.

Areas as far south as Seattle; Des Moines, Iowa; Chicago; Cleveland and Albany, New York, potentially could see the northern lights Friday and Saturday nights, depending on the weather and lighting conditions.

“Essentially the sun just shot out a magnet and it is about to interact with another magnet, Earth’s magnet,” William Murtagh, program coordinator of the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center, said yesterday. When the ejections reach Earth, they will touch off geomagnetic storms that are forecast to last at least until tomorrow.

NASAA NASA image of an X-class solar flare flashing in the middle of the sun on Wednesday.

The first wave of the two-part event arrived last night and the second one was detected at 12:09 p.m. ET time, the centre said. A G2 geomagnetic storm was forecast for later today and a stronger G3 storm on Saturday. The last G3 storm to strike the Earth was June 29, 2013, the centre said.

Geomagnetic storms, like hurricanes, are classified on a five-step scale with G1 being the weakest and G5 the strongest.

Radiation associated with the passages of the waves has been raised to an S2 level, which means passengers in high- flying aircraft at higher latitudes “may experience small, increased radiation exposures.”

United Airlines Inc. has rerouted a “few” flights from the U.S. to Asia that traverse the North Pole because of the storms, said Megan McCarthy, a spokeswoman for United Continental Holdings Inc.
Some satellites may have minor problems, although Earth should be spared the most crippling impacts of these kinds of events, which can include disruptions to electric grids and radiation strong enough to cause polar flights to change routes, said Thomas Berger, the center’s director. People away from city lights may see a brilliant display in the northern sky.

What worries scientists, electric grid operators, and just about anyone else who thinks about these things is that they can get big and cause severe problems. In March 1989 all of Quebec lost power because of a solar storm, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration website. The New York power grid lost 150 megawatts and New England dropped 1,410 megawatts.

Geomagnetic storms caused failures in 1958 and in 2003 as well, the center said on its website. The strongest such storm on record occurred in 1859, electrifying telegraph lines, shocking operators and starting fires in papers on their desks, NASA’s website shows.

It also produced an aurora that was seen as far south as Cuba and Hawaii. The flare is named the Carrington Event after British astronomer Richard Carrington, who saw it from his observatory in England. In 2012, material from an eruption of similar size missed Earth.

Berger said today’s event won’t rise to that scale. Both the Carrington flare and the 2012 flare took about 17 hours to travel from the sun to Earth, which is an indication of their power. The two now arriving took more than 40 hours.

Aside from a little static, the thing many people might notice is the glow of the aurora in the northern sky, which should be seen in the states bordering Canada and possibly farther south. To see it well, Murtagh said, people will have to travel away from the city lights and be under clear skies.

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