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Northern Lights Shine Over Skies As Extreme Solar Storm Hit Earth: Here’s How And Why It Happened

As an extreme solar storm hit Earth, it led to a massive celestial light show. Now social media is full of aurora images from different nations.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) confirmed that an extreme (G5) solar storm, the most powerful since 2003, reached Earth, and the “first of several coronal mass ejections (CMEs) -- expulsions of plasma and magnetic fields from the Sun -- came just after 1600 GMT”. The phenomenon led to an interesting celestial light show in skies from Tasmania to Britain.

For those caught unaware, Coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, are events that take place on the sun's surface. The process means release of plasma and magnetic fields from the sun’s corona. However, when they are directed towards Earth, they can trigger geomagnetic storms, which in turn, can impact several systems, both in near-Earth orbit and on the Earth’s surface, including disruption of communications like navigation, radio, and satellite operations, and even the electric power grid,

The storm, which was earlier predicted as a severe geomagnetic storm, was later upgraded to an "extreme" geomagnetic storm. As for its severity, it is the first since the "Halloween Storms" of October 2003, which led to blackouts in Sweden and disrupted power infrastructure in South Africa. Unlike solar flares, which travel at the speed of light and can reach Earth in around eight minutes, CMEs average remains to be at 800 kilometers (500 miles) per second.

Geomagnetic Storm And Northern Lights

Not just that, the geomagnetic storms can also end up producing spectacular displays of auroras in Earth's atmosphere. Keeping in mind the severity of the current geomagnetic storm watch, the possibility for auroras, often called the Northern Lights, was there. And well, it did take place and there was a show of elusive Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, across the UK. From Scotland’s hills to the streets of London, Wales, and England, Britons witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime experience

On the other hand, the US agency said that there’s a possibility that Asia and Europe, which usually have dark and clear skies, may also see displays of auroras. Additionally, Americans as far south as Alabama and Northern California may also end up seeing the northern lights this weekend.

In fact, people across social media have now been posing pictures of auroras from Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Alabama. The Northern Lights were also witnessed in the Dnipro city in Ukraine. Iain Mansfield, a think tanker in Hertford, Britain, was quoted as saying by news agency AFP, “We've just woken the kids to go watch the Northern Lights in the back garden! Clearly visible with the naked eye"

"Absolutely biblical skies in Tasmania at 4am this morning. I'm leaving today and knew I could not pass up this opportunity," photographer Sean O' Riordan wrote as he shared a post on X.

Meanwhile, apart from the beautiful auroras, the magnetic fields associated with geomagnetic storms can also trigger currents in power lines, which can lead to power blackouts. Since long pipelines can also become electrified, it can lead to engineering problems. NASA has a dedicated team to look at astronaut safety.