Geomagnetic Storm Impacts Earth This Weekend: Solar Flare's CME Creates Northern Lights

First Posted: Apr 13, 2013 08:21 AM EDT

There's a high chance that a geomagnetic storm may occur during this weekend, and it could produce some dazzling sights. A solar flare that occurred around 3:16 a.m. on Thursday morning produced a coronal mass ejection (CME), which could mean that Earth is in store for a spectacular display of northern lights this evening.

Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation that can sling the harmful material through space toward Earth. Fortunately, this radiation cannot pass through our atmosphere to impact humans on the ground.

The solar flare that occurred on Thursday, classified as a M6.5 flare, was a mid-level flare that caused a R2 radio blackout (blackouts are categorized between R1 and R5 on NOAA's space weather scales). Ten times less powerful than the strongest flares, which are labeled X-class flares, this one was the most powerful one that the sun has produced yet this year.

Yet it's not the flare itself that has grabbed the attention of the public. It's the CME which followed the flare. This phenomenon slings billions of tons of solar particles into space which can reach our planet days after the event. Shooting from the sun at over 600 miles per second, this CME could potentially affect electronic systems in satellites and on the ground.

As the sun reaches the peak of its 11-year activity cycle in late 2013, these events are becoming more and more common. However, this CME may produce something dazzling for those watching the Earth's skies. It could create a geomagnetic storm when it interacts with Earth's atmosphere. Enhanced auroras from the event could be visible as far south as New Jersey and Oregon late Saturday evening and into Sunday, according to the LA Times.

When exactly can you see the lights? If you're lucky, the northern lights are expected to put on a show starting at 8 p.m. EDT with a possible deviation of up to seven hours. If the radiation hits much after dark settles on the East Coast, the lights could be missed and instead will only be visible for the West.

Nonetheless, keep your eyes to the skies. You may have the chance of seeing the wavy, ghostly filaments of light that make up our Aurora.

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