The PNW MIGHT See an Aurora Later this Week
After all of the hullabaloo last week about the incoming coronal mass ejection causing an aurora borealis to be visible in more southern latitudinal states, we now have the actual potential this Thursday.
Last week I poo-pooed the fact that many news outlets (ours included) took the story from the University of Fairbanks, Alaska, breathlessly stating that those of us in the northern states would be treated to the celestial display... even though there was no evidence to support such a clam.
Fast forward a week, or so, and we now have the potential for an actual aurora. Well, if the conditions line up correctly we will.
Yesterday afternoon, a sun spot grouping on the outgoing edge of the sun released a massive coronal mass ejection.
Initial release around 4pm Pacific yesterday...
...expanding drastically by just before 5pm Pacific...
...and finally, by just before 8pm Pacific, it was clear that the coronal mass ejection held a very wide berth.
Conversely, Earth also experienced a modest proton storm following the initial eruption.
A proton storm can cause several impacts around and sometimes even on Earth. When energetic protons collide with satellites or humans in space, they can penetrate deep into the object that they collide with and cause damage to electronic circuits or biological DNA.
Solar/proton storms have been recently shown to have adverse effects on satellites in low orbit. Case in point, the loss of dozens of Starlink satellites just over a year ago. Damage control was performed publicly and the nature of the failure was covered up. However, those who pay attention to such phenomena could clearly see it was the impact of the minor solar storm that brought the satellites down.
Taking a look below at the GOES X-Ray Flux data and you can see this was a long duration, M-Class solar flare.
According to the ENLIL spiral, NOAA expects the coronal mass ejection to impact Earth around 8pm GMT (or around noon Pacific). However, if the magnetic orientation of the coronal mass ejection is opposite that of our magnetic field, it could generate up to a level 6, or 7 on the KP index. A level 7 would be sufficient in most cases to create an aura visible to all of us here in the northwest. As long as clear skies persist.
Overall, it's a maybe as to whether or not we will be treated to one of the coolest shows on planet Earth.
One of the coolest aspects of this eruption is the fact that a smaller flare produced an initial coronal mass ejection which was pulled back to the sun, raining upon its surface. That energy, introduced back into the sun spot from which it first emerged, produced the needed agitation to ignite the much larger coronal mass ejection. Imagine multiple Earth's worth of material raining upon the surface of the sun, igniting even more Earth's worth of material to be flung into space. Amazing.
I'll try to keep you updated on what's going to happen.
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