HomeScienceA “cannibal” solar ejection going straight to Earth could bring northern lights as far south as Illinois and cause power voltage problems
A “cannibal” solar ejection going straight to Earth could bring northern lights as far south as Illinois and cause power voltage problems
August 18, 2022
The sun could send a storm to Earth in the coming days. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, our fiery star spewed out a series of eruptions on Sunday that head toward our planet and could create a strong geomagnetic storm.
One of those eruptions, called a coronal mass ejection or CME, is expected to collide and consume another, creating a so-called cannibal CME event. According to The Weather Channel, these events can trigger strong geomagnetic storms — and in this case, it’s headed our way.
NOAA expects the emissions to hit Thursday, but before they do, the agency said Earth will also be shelled on Wednesday with relatively fast solar winds, known as a recurrent coronal hole high-speed flow. The solar winds alone could set off a minor geomagnetic storm on Wednesday, but those conditions are expected to escalate to strong conditions known as G3 once the solar eruptions set in.
NOAA said at least four of the CMEs have the potential to directly affect the Earth.
Geomagnetic storms are ranked on a scale from G1 to G5, with G5 being the most extreme. In such a case, there would be widespread voltage regulation problems and some power grids could experience “complete collapse or blackouts,” according to NOAA.
A G3 storm, as expected, may require some power supply systems to be corrected, and it may also cause some false alarms on power protection devices.
Such a storm can also create a nice side effect – visible northern lights outside their usual realm.
NOAA previously said the Northern Lights, also known as the aurora borealis, can be seen as far south as Illinois and Oregon when the G3 strikes.
When a CME hit Earth on Wednesday, it triggered a G2 geomagnetic storm and an aurora sighting in Herzogswalde, Germany, according to spaceweather.com, which tracks the latest data from NOAA. Herzogswalde is at latitude 51º north, roughly in line with central Quebec and Ontario in Canada. And as spaceweather.com noted, the lights in that city were visible through “clouds, haze, and city lights.”
On Thursday morning, NOAA said the area of impact is typically 50ºN and beyond, adding that the aurora may be visible at high latitudes, such as in Canada and Alaska.
Also on Wednesday, NASA astronaut Bob Hines, who pilots the SpaceX Crew-4 mission launched in April, shared his own photos of the northern lights seen from space. He pointed to recent solar activity for creating the splendor.
Where the lights will be visible and how intense they will be is best estimated by NOAA about 30 to 90 minutes in advance. Radar shows that around 2:45 a.m. ET on Thursday morning, the chances of aurora being seen from North Dakota, Minnesota and most of Canada increased dramatically.
A short-term forecast for the lights can be found here.
Li Cohen is a social media producer and trending reporter for CBS News, with a focus on social justice issues.