More auroras may flood your timeline later this year

  • The Sun is approaching its solar maximum and that means we may see more auroras as we approach that point.
  • The solar maximum is the highest rate of activity on the Sun which is believed to be happening right now thanks to the high number of sunspots we can observe.
  • This means more plasma and magnetic fields hitting our atmosphere and potentially more auroras visible to more people around the world.

Over the weekend you may have seen posts about the auroras that were stretching beyond their usual confines of the furthest parts of the Northern Hemisphere. If you missed a chance to see them, there may be more chances to observe an aurora.

This is thanks to the high amount of activity on the Sun. The Sun is currently approaching what is called its maximum. A solar maximum is the highest rate of activity from the Sun during an approximately 11-year long solar cycle. During this time there is a high frequency of sunspots observable on the surface of our central star. One of these sunspots was so large it could be seen from Earth if one used the tools usually used for observing an eclipse.

While the number of sunspots suggests that we are approaching the solar maximum, the peak could occur anytime between now and 2026, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. We won’t know when we’ve reached the solar maximum until months afterwards, but we will be able to see the effects of this maximum.

The auroras we see on Earth are a result of coronal mass ejection (CME) which sees large swatches of plasma and magnetic fields ejected from the Sun.

Earth’s atmosphere protects us from these ejections and we see that protection in the form of an aurora. Unfortunately, we have technology in orbit that is essentially naked and gets bombarded with this ejecta causing technical problems. For example, SpaceX was slightly concerned that its fleet of thousands of satellites may be damaged. Thankfully no satellites were harmed during the weekend’s solar storms.

In order to detect potential solar storms, NASA makes use of the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) located at Lagrange Point L1.

“Sudden increases in density, total interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) strength, and solar wind speed at the DSCOVR spacecraft indicate arrival of the CME-associated interplanetary shock ahead of the magnetic cloud. This can often provide 15 to 60 minutes advanced warning of shock arrival at Earth – and any possible sudden impulse or sudden storm commencement; as registered by Earth-based magnetometers,” NOAA explains.

That isn’t a big timeframe at all, but we know that there is a lot of activity on the Sun right now and precautions to protect against pummelling from the planet’s heat source should be considered until we’re clear of the solar maximum.

In the Southern Hemisphere the aurora – known as Aurora australis – takes on a reddish hue a departure from the purple-blue hues seen in the Northern Hemisphere.

For optimal viewing of an aurora, one needs to far away from the city to escape light pollution. Some folks have said that pointing your smartphone camera at the sky reveals the aurora more effectively but we haven’t tested this and can’t comment on its effectiveness.

We highly recommend following NOAA on X as it will provide notes about when the next CME will hit Earth. As mentioned, there won’t be much warning but if you’re hungry to see an aurora – which many people won’t see unless they travel to the poles – we highly recommend keeping tabs on that organisation.

[Image – Pexels from Pixabay]


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