Minor solar storm to produce colorful auroras in Northern Hemisphere

While the storm could have some impact on satellite functionality and cause fluctuations in weak power grids, NOAA forecasters say both are unlikely.
By Brooks Hays  |  March 14, 2018 at 12:07 PM
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March 14 (UPI) -- A solar storm is headed for Earth, and is expected to collide with the magnetosphere above the Northern Hemisphere on Wednesday and Thursday. But the latest forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, suggests the storm is likely to be mild.

On Tuesday, NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center issued a minor geomagnetic storm watch for March 14 and 15. Forecasters estimated the strength of the storm at G1, the lowest rating. A G5 storm is the strongest.

The storm could have minor impacts on satellite functionality and cause fluctuations in weak power grids, but such impacts are unlikely, forecasters said. The geomagnetic disturbance will, however, produce some colorful auroras at northern latitudes.

Auroras occur when high-energy particles emitted by the sun collide with and penetrate Earth's magnetosphere. When these charged particles hit gas molecules in the upper atmosphere, they cause them to glow in an array of colors.

If enough of these high-energy particles flood Earth's magnetosphere, our planet's natural protection from radiation can become overwhelmed. The resulting geomagnetic storm can disrupt power grids and communications systems.

While solar storms big enough to do serious damage are rare, they can happen. Some scientists have suggested NASA build a giant space shield to protect Earth from solar storms.

NASA is currently managing several missions designed to study the structure of Earth's magnetosphere, radiation belts and upper atmosphere in an effort to better understand how each component interacts with the barrage of particles streaming through space and by our planet every day.

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