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Scientists were recently puzzled after a “potentially destructive” solar storm hit Earth without warning.
An unexpected solar storm hit Earth shortly before midnight UTC June 25 and continued through most of June 26. spaceweather.com (will open in a new tab). Scientists have classified it as a G1 storm, which means it was strong enough to create slight power grid fluctuations, cause minor satellite interference, disrupt the navigational ability of some migratory animals, and cause unusually strong auroras.
An unexpected solar storm coincided with the peak extremely rare alignment of five planetswhere Mercury, VenusMars, Jupiter as well as Saturn lined up in the sky in order of their proximity to sun (which has not happened since 1864). Amateur astronomers in the northern hemisphere have been able to capture the unexpected auroras by photographing neatly aligned planets.
Photographer Harlan Thomas captured image (will open in a new tab) of bright auroras in Calgary, Canada, which flared in the dawn sky ahead of the planetary alignment on June 26.
“Wow, let’s talk about surprises,” Thomas told Spaceweather.com. “Aurora has become [visible to the] naked eye with beautiful columns,” and lasted about 5 minutes, Thomas said.
Connected: An ancient solar storm has crashed the Earth into the wrong part of the solar cycle – and scientists are concerned
At first scientists suspected coronal mass ejection (CME) created a strange storm – a large outburst of plasma with a built-in magnetic field that erupts from a sunspot – but they couldn’t tell if it was on Earth or the far side of the Sun, according to Spaceweather. com.
However, experts now blame the much rarer Co-Rotation Region (CIR); these are “transition zones between slow and fast solar wind currents,” according to Spaceweather.com. These zones create clumps of plasma that can suddenly produce shock waves similar to CMEs, but do not produce sunspots, making them much more difficult to detect on the surface of the Sun. The solar wind that hit Earth on June 25 and 26 peaked at about 1.57 million miles per hour (2.52 million kilometers per hour), consistent with other CIRs in the past, according to Spaceweather.com.
An unexpected solar storm hit Earth less than a week after the giant sunspot known as AR3038. doubles in size in 24 hours and reached a maximum diameter of more than 2.5 times the size of the Earth. A giant sunspot raised fears of a potentially dangerous CME hitting our planet, but the spot eventually veered away from Earth as the Sun rotated. Scientists don’t know if a giant sunspot and a solar storm are related.
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Auroras occur when charged particles from the solar wind collide with oxygen and nitrogen molecules in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, ionizing those molecules and causing them to glow. Typically, auroras are limited to areas around the North and South Poles, where the Earth’s magnetic field, which normally deflects these particles, is weakest. But during solar storms, the auroras can become much brighter and can be seen at much lower latitudes than usual. In November 2021, a powerful solar storm produced colorful displays in the United States as far south as Pennsylvania, Iowa and Oregon.
Because scientists initially believed that the recent solar storm could have been caused by a distant CME, they predicted that the unusual aurora could last until June 29th. Now, however, solar wind activity has returned to normal.
Originally published on Live Science.
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