Second favorable night, but not certain, for the Northern Lights, in the middle of a solar storm

Second favorable night, but not certain, for the Northern Lights, in the middle of a solar storm
Second favorable night, but not certain, for the Northern Lights, in the middle of a solar storm

For the second night in a row, curious people from all over the world are trying to see the magnificent northern lights setting the sky ablaze on Saturday, caused by a solar storm described as “historic” and which is expected to continue on Sunday.

• Read also: IN PICTURES | Northern lights in the four corners of Quebec: have you seen the show?

• Read also: Solar storm: this spot on the Sun should worry you and here’s why

This phenomenon is caused by particle ejections from the Sun, which trigger geomagnetic storms when they reach the Earth.

Conditions linked to a level 5 geomagnetic storm, the maximum level on the scale used, were observed Friday evening then again Saturday morning, according to the American Oceanic and Atmospheric Observing Agency (NOAA). A first in 20 years.

This rare event allowed residents of many countries to observe superb northern lights on the night of Friday to Saturday, photos of which illuminated in blue, orange or pink flooded social networks.

“I have the feeling of living a historic night in France […] It was really loaded with solar particles and emotions,” wrote Eric Lagadec, astrophysicist at the Côte d’Azur Observatory, on the social network chances of dawns again this night. Find good spots, away from the lights, with a clear view to the north!”

“Not sure that the phenomenon will repeat itself tonight, it is much more difficult to predict than the weather,” wrote French astronaut Thomas Pesquet. But it “doesn’t hurt to look at the sky just in case.”

According to the American Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), attached to NOAA, the northern lights could be visible again “over a large portion of the United States” during the night from Saturday to Sunday.

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John Finney/WENN

Few disturbances reported

A warning for a storm level 4 or higher is issued for Sunday, and level 3 conditions are possible until Monday, according to the SWPC, which called the episode “historic.”

While the authorities were concerned about possible consequences on the electricity and communications networks, no major disruption seems to have been observed at the moment.

Only “preliminary” information on “irregularities on the electricity network” as well as “deterioration of high-frequency communications, GPS and possibly satellite navigation” was reported, according to the SWPC.

Billionaire Elon Musk, whose Starlink internet network has thousands of satellites in low orbit, assured on X that they “are under a lot of pressure, but so far they are holding up”.

Regarding air traffic, the American Civil Aviation Agency (FAA) said on Friday “not to expect significant consequences”, while having advised airlines and pilots to “anticipate” possible disruptions, geomagnetic storms that could disrupt navigation tools.

China’s National Space Weather Center also issued a red alert on Saturday, warning that the solar storm is expected to continue through the weekend and impact communications and navigation systems, according to the state Xinhua news agency.

Northern lights were seen in the northern half of the country, she reported.

Peak solar activity

In the United States, the Northern Lights were visible across almost the entire country overnight from Friday to Saturday. They could be admired as far away as the Bahamas, according to NASA.

Powerful solar storms can “push auroras to more southern latitudes,” the space agency explained.

The Sun is currently near its peak activity, a cycle that returns every 11 years.

Solar flares called coronal mass ejections, which can take several days to reach Earth, are causing the current event, creating aurora borealis when they come into contact with Earth’s magnetic field.

The last observed level 5 geomagnetic storm was in October 2003, an episode nicknamed “the Halloween storms”.

The largest solar storm ever recorded occurred in 1859, according to NASA. Also known as the Carrington event, it seriously disrupted telegraph communications.

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