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Breathtaking Scenery, Communications Disruption: Solar Storm Hits Earth-Photos

An exceptionally massive solar storm has reached the Earth on Friday, creating spectacular displays of aurora across the Northern Hemisphere early Saturday, reported the Associated Press (AP).

Despite the dazzling auroras, the solar storm could disrupt communications and navigation across the Earth, causing power outages and damaging satellites. The storm is due to last over the weekend until Sunday.

Northern Lights

When charged particles reach Earth’s magnetic field, they interact with gases in the atmosphere. This results in colorful light displays, known as the aurora borealis, or northern lights. They are typically seen in high latitudes and where there is limited light pollution.

Breathtaking Scenery, Communications Disruption: Solar Storm Hits Earth -Photos
Aurora spotted in Scotland

However, during intense solar storms, they can appear farther south than expected. Social media users reported spotting bright auroras in places worldwide. They shared photos from places like Russia, Scandinavia, the UK, continental Europe, and as far south as Mallorca, Spain.

Breathtaking Scenery, Communications Disruption: Solar Storm Hits Earth -Photos
Northern lights over Russia

According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center, the increased solar activity puts a large part of the US within the range of the northern lights. They may be seen as far south as Alabama and Northern California.

Magnificent Scenes

Photos taken from around the world show skies lit up in bright and dazzling colors, such as hot pink, green and purple, in Europe and the US, extending to New Zealand.

Many in the UK shared photos of the stunning phenomenon on social media. It reached as far south as London and southern England. Chris Snell, a meteorologist at the Met Office, Britain’s weather agency, said that there were sightings from across the country. He added that the office received photos and information from other European locations including Prague and Barcelona.

Northern lights
Northern lights seen in England

Rob Steenburgh, a scientist with NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, said: “That’s really the gift from space weather: the aurora.” He pointed out that phone camera could catch the best views of aurora, because it is better in capturing light than the naked eye.

Solar Activity

The source of the solar storm is a cluster of sunspots on the surface of the sun. This cluster is 17 times the diameter of Earth.

Since Wednesday, the sun has produced strong solar flares, causing at least seven outbursts of plasma. Each outburst, known as a coronal mass ejection, can contain billions of tons of plasma and magnetic field from the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona. These outbursts have intensified as the sun nears the peak of activity in its 11-year cycle, known as solar maximum.

Breathtaking Scenery, Communications Disruption: Solar Storm Hits Earth -Photos
Aurora in Germany

Geomagnetic Storm

The NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center declared that Earth is experiencing an extreme G5 geomagnetic storm. G5 is the strongest level of geomagnetic storm, on a scale from 1 to 5. This is the first G5 storm to hit the planet since October 2003, when a solar storm caused power outages in Sweden and damaged power transformers in South Africa.

Geomagnetic storms can cause major disruptions to Earth’s magnetic field, reported CNN. According to the Space Weather Prediction Center, “Geomagnetic storms can impact infrastructure in near-Earth orbit and on Earth’s surface, potentially disrupting communications, the electric power grid, navigation, radio and satellite operations.”

Northern lights
Northern lights in Maine, US

The Center has notified operators in these areas to take protective action to mitigate any potential impacts. The geomagnetic storm could cause problems with high voltage control, affect satellite operations, prevent radio transmissions, or disrupt GPS signals.

NASA determined that the storm posed no serious threat to its seven astronauts aboard the International Space Station. It said: “NASA completed a thorough analysis of recent space weather activity and determined it posed no risk to the crew aboard the International Space Station and no additional precautionary measures are needed.”

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