Over the weekend, the Earth was hit by a geomagnetic storm, which shocked scientists as unlike others solar storms, this one did not appear to originate from a solar flare. Usually, these storms occur due to major explosions that place on the surface of the Sun, which are referred to as solar flares. These flares themselves are caused by the tangling, crossing or reorganizing of magnetic field lines of the star.
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Within minutes after exploding, solar flares charge particles on the Sun and heat them up to millions of degrees, producing a burst of radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to X-rays and gamma rays.
The most recent solar storm came during a rare alignment of five planets, which gave photographers an excellent opportunity to picture them against the bright auroras that are frequent during these space weather events.
Since the storm took place over the weekend, astronomers now believe this event occurred due to a co-rotating interaction region (CIR), which is a phenomenon much rarer than a solar flares.
CIRs are created when two solar winds at traveling at different speeds meet, as the faster winds then begin to overtake the slower ones.
This CIR caught scientists off guard as it came about without the usual signs of a geomagnetic, which tends to be heralded by a coronal mass ejection (CME).
One of the most powerful forms of a solar storm, a CME occurs when the Sun ejects a cloud of charged particles and electromagnetic fluctuations from its atmosphere.
When CME is aimed at the Earth, one distinct effect observed is that the solar storm boosts the aurora borealis and australis, the natural light shows generated when particles from the solar wind excites atoms in Earth’s upper atmosphere, making them glow.
According to the experts at SpaceWeather.com, when the CIR hit the earth, the solar storm managed to “open a crack in our planet’s magnetosphere”.
This solar storm hit Earth only a week after NASA issued a warning as a sunspot nearly three times the size of the Earth continues to face the planet.
Sunspots are regions of the Sun’s surface that appear to be darker than their surrounding surfaces and can span hundreds of millions of miles.
These regions are formed due to magnetic disruptions in the photosphere — the lowest layer of the sun’s atmosphere — with these disturbances exposing the cooler layers of the star underneath.
Solar activity tends to follow 11-year-long cycles, with solar activity in each building up to a peak, during which the star’s magnetic poles flip, which then followed by a ramping down period before the next cycle begins.
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Solar storms frequently generate stunning aurora light shows at higher latitudes by affecting the Earth’s magnetic field.
The aurora, sometimes known as the polar lights, are natural light shows caused by the solar wind disturbing the Earth’s magnetosphere.
Charged particles — mainly electrons and protons — precipitate into and excite the Earth’s upper atmosphere, causing it to glow.
The wavy patterns that result often resemble curtains of light that follow the lines of force lines of the geomagnetic field, and usually shine in colors of green and pink.