The Space Weather Prediction Center issued a moderate geomagnetic storm watch on Monday. Northern lights will be visible as far south as Idaho through Tuesday.
Should we be worried? No, we’ve already experienced some moderate geomagnetic storms in the last few days, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
- On Sunday, a moderate (G2) solar storm was detected by ground-based magnetometers, reported NOAA.
- At the moderate level, geomagnetic storms are not dangerous to the general public. The last geomagnetic storm that disturbed human life in a noticeable way took place in 1972, per Science Alert.
What are the effects?: A geomagnetic storm could affect life on Earth in several ways, depending on the severity of the storm. NOAA has a 1-5 Space Weather Scale that determines the severity of a storm.
- G1 — minor: At this level, some weak power grid fluctuations can occur with minimal disruption to space crafts. Some light northern lights can be seen in northern regions.
- G2 — moderate: High-latitude power systems can experience minor disruptions, ground control may have to realign spacecraft and northern lights can be seen as far south as Idaho and New York.
- G3 — strong: Some voltage corrections in the power grid may be required, low orbit satellites could drag, low-frequency radio problems may occur and northern lights can be seen as far south as Illinois and Oregon.
- G4 — severe: Possible widespread outage of the power grid may occur, spacecraft could experience tracking problems, satellite navigation could be degraded and northern lights can be seen as far south as northern California and Alabama.
- G5 — extreme: Some power grid systems could experience complete blackouts, radio frequency and satellite navigation could possibly be out for hours, northern lights could be visible in Florida and southern Texas.
What is a geomagnetic storm? Science Alert reports that geomagnetic storms happen when the magnetic field of Earth is briefly disturbed. This is caused by bursts of radiation from the sun. In the event of a geomagnetic storm, the northern lights — aurora borealis — can be visible in some parts of the world.
- During these bursts of radiation, the sun emits strong solar winds, also known as a coronal mass ejection. These winds disturb Earth’s magnetic field and generates electric currents in Earth’s atmosphere, according to the United States Geological Survey.
Where can northern lights be seen? NOAA reports that during a G2 storm, the northern lights can be seen in the U.S. as far south as Idaho to New York. Here are some tips on viewing the lights, according to Nordic Visitor:
- Know when and where you can see the lights. Check storm alerts and watch for when they will be visible in your area.
- Head as far north as possible. The farther north you are, the more visible the lights will be.
- Find somewhere dark. In places with lots of light pollution, the northern lights will not be visible. You will need to go somewhere remote, dark and rural to see the lights in their full effect.