British aurora hunters could be in for another treat today if a new wave of solar particles arrives as expected. The Earth’s magnetic field is already buzzing with activity after being hit by a massive solar event called a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) at the weekend. And another blast is headed our way.
America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is calling it the strongest solar radiation storm since 2005 and it is getting stronger. The associated solar flare peaked on January 23 at 4am (GMT) and another very fast-moving CME is now headed towards Earth.
A computer model released yesterday by NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Centre is forecasting that the storm will arrive late today.
The weekend’s influx of charged particles meant that the Northern Lights were visible in Scotland, the North-East of England, Northern Ireland and also in Ireland. If the storm intensifies, the Aurora could be seen even further south today.
CMEs aren’t fully understood and are sometimes (but not always) associated with solar flares. CMEs are balloon-shaped bursts of solar wind that rise above the solar corona, expanding and heating to tens of millions of degrees to form a super-heated plasma as they climb. Charged particles within the plasma move along the Sun’s magnetic field lines and it is thought that, when these field lines cross, the shock accelerates the particles into space. Each CME can release up to 100 billion kg of this material at speeds of up to two million mph.