Solar Flares Impact Communications, Could Produce Brilliant Aurora Borealis

A strong solar flare impacted high frequency radio communication for over an hour on Wednesday afternoon. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the X1 solar flare is likely to cause a coronal mass ejection. However, it is unclear whether a geomagnetic storm will impact Earth.

On Tuesday, an M4 (medium-sized) solar flare also interfered with HF radio communications. Although the event was minor, it lasted more than six hours. A subsequent CME prompted a moderate geomagnetic storm warning for September 12.

Solar Flare

According to the NOAA, both solar flares originated in the sun’s AR 2158 region, which is a historically active sunspot.

Although they are rare, strong geomagnetic storms can cause “catastrophic” issues. As reported by CBC, solar storms can interfere with satellite and radio communications, navigation equipment and power grids.

NOAA spokesman Bill Murtagh said it is unclear whether Wednesday’s solar flare will cause a noticeable disturbance. As scientists are still gathering data, they are expected to provide more details by Thursday afternoon.

Although solar flares and solar storms can cause issues with communications, the effects are not entirely negative. Solar storms are also known for prompting brilliant aurora borealis displays.

Solar Flare

Also called the Northern Lights, aurora borealis are observed when “electrically charged particles from the sun… enter the Earth’s atmosphere.” As the electrically charged particles collide with gas particles, they form bright and colorful patches of light.

The aurora borealis’ color is determined by the type of gas particles. Nitrogen particles produce Northern Lights that appear red, blue, and purple. Auroras that are completely red are the product of high-altitude oxygen particles. The most common Northern Lights, which appear yellow or green, are also caused by oxygen particles. However they occur at a much lower altitude.

Although aurora borealis are not uncommon, they are often limited to the extreme northern hemisphere. However, the recent solar flares could prompt specifically brilliant Northern Lights. Following a strong solar storm, auroras are sometimes visible in the northern and central United States.

The Geophysical Institute monitors solar flare activity and issues short and long-term aurora borealis predictions. Forecasters estimate the effects of this week’s solar flares “may reach Earth at the same time,” and “the disturbances should… result in increased auroral activity anytime for three or four days.”

[Images via Style Magazin and Wikimedia]