Aurora borealis were visible near the equator on April 23. Texas and Extremadura, Spain, where astrophotographer Lorenzo Cordero took NASA’s finest shot of the day, saw the stunning scene.
Consuelo Cid Tortuero, researcher at the University of Alcalá and scientist at the National Service of Space Meteorology (SeNMEs), says a solar filament generated one of the strongest magnetic storms in recent years.
According to NCAR director Scott W. McIntosh, the maximum of the solar peak has shifted forward a year. McIntosh based his forecast on 20 years of solar intensity data from 1750 and his sunspot record.
The experts predict a “termination event” in late 2023 or early 2024, when intensity will climax. An 11-year solar cycle abruptly stops, reversing the star’s polarity, and begins anew with higher intensity. The Sun can suffer massive magnetic field collisions that cause plasma tsunamis that charge its surface for weeks toward the conclusion of a solar cycle.
Geophysicist Joan Miquel Torta agrees that the current solar cycle is very active. “There may be more activity, but not all of the events are critical,” says Ebro Observatory director Torta. In 2012, a massive solar ejection missed Earth.
“The worst part is the cycle’s descent, when there are a lot of filaments in the Sun,” says Cid. If pointed toward Earth, these filaments can discharge solar material into space. The expert says “more activity and a higher probability of something jumping out” with more sunspots.
Although McIntosh worries about the Sun, the public shouldn’t. “Someone must be responsible if a solar event damages the electricity grid and water cannot be purified. “That matters,” the scientist adds.
According to geophysical security specialist Torta, solar flares at their peak are “events of low probability but very high impact” that might harm the power system and satellites.
Satellites and electrical consumption have transformed our relationship to the galactic ecology in the past century. Solar flares “start to affect technological systems, the infrastructure we have developed” in our modern lifestyle. “That’s our dependence,” Torta explains.
All questioned experts acknowledge the Carrington incident, named for Richard Carrington, the astronomer who recorded it. In 1859, a huge solar flare destroyed US and UK telegraphic networks and transformed night into day in the Caribbean, Hawaii, and the Canary Islands.
In 1989, a solar flare shut down a hydroelectric plant in Quebec, Canada, leaving “millions of people without electricity for 12 hours,” according to Miguel Herraíz Sarachaga, professor emeritus in the Physical Sciences department at the Complutense University of Madrid.
Radio emissions, GPS navigation, and communication satellites might collapse if the system is overpowered today. Torta claims geomagnetic storms impair equipment in high electric conductivity.
“Electric node destruction could be catastrophic. Herraíz believes it would take months since changing the components is hard. Due to our dependency on telecommunication systems, which may be damaged by severe solar occurrences, space meteorology, which examines the physical state of the planetary system, is rising.
“We don’t need to be dramatic or paranoid, but we should analyze our vulnerabilities,” says Ebro Observatory’s geomagnetism specialist. “Not only does the ejection have to reach Earth, but the magnetic field of the plasma that travels with the solar wind must have a polarity opposite to Earth’s magnetic field, causing a phenomenon called magnetic reconnection,” says Miquel.
The researcher advises nations to “know their electrical grid and analyze how dependent it is on its technology.” The geophysicist welcomes that society and technology have grown “more resilient to climatic phenomena.” Transformers and satellites are different from the seventies.
The Sun controls Earth. When strong eruptions or solar flares occur, radiation and highly charged particles harm our world. The solar wind, a massive plasma stream from the Sun, regularly causes geomagnetic storms in the upper atmosphere.
The North and South Poles’ aurora borealis is space meteorology’s most visible manifestation. The Southern US and Europe saw auroras many weeks ago after a severe storm.
Increased borealis observations allow Professor Herraíz to discuss “the geophysics of Earth’s spacial environment.” Early observation of space meteorological phenomena can help avert harm from severe solar outbursts. “More science means more accurate information and prevention.”
“The aurora is the most visible manifestation of the magnetic storms that cause mass to come from the Sun and impact the Earth,” explains María Teresa del Río Gaztelurrutia from the Planetary Science team at the University of Basque Country. The physicist says they are common and only “massive events” pose difficulties. When electrons and protons hit Earth’s oxygen and nitrogen, the sky becomes purple.
Professor Herraíz calls the twilight star show the “friendly face.” Aristotle, Seneca, and Pliny the Elder described unexplainable heavenly lights, “which shows that auroras had been observed in our latitudes before, and that these atmospheric phenomena are as old as the world,” Herraíz said. “Now we can detect them better.”
“What we see is the result of the impact of a coronal mass ejection that has traveled from the Sun to Earth’s magnetosphere, and the interaction of the highly charged particles dragged by the solar wind, which has penetrated our planet’s atmosphere,” the scientist says.
As particles lose energy, they generate light that creates auroras and displays atomic-scale physical events. The professor adds such contact “makes clear the existence of our atmosphere and the magnetic field of the Earth, and, in a certain sense, it makes it visible”. It’s usually harmless.