National Geographic
Menu

Solar Storm Hits Earth

After a weekend filled with great auroral activity in Northern Canada and Scandinavia (Norway video) thanks to a strong gust of solar wind coming off the Sun Jan.19th, the Earth is about to get hit again -by the biggest blast of solar radiation in 7 years. Talk about a one-two punch on the cosmic scale!

Late last night (Jan.22) at around 11 pm ET a giant, long lasting, solar flare erupted off the face of the Sun, sending a giant Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) – cloud of plasma and charged particles – squarely towards the Earth.  Detected by NASA’s sun-monitoring satellites SOHO and STEREO, the solar blast was determined to be an M9 on the Richter scale of solar flares – just shy of an X- class flare which is ranked as the most powerful. Space weather forecasters at NOAA – who keep watch for any hazardous, incoming solar storms – are expecting the brunt of the CME to slam into Earth’s magnetic field Jan.24 around 9 am EST ( 2 pm UT)   +/- 7 hours.

And Earth is not the only planet in its cross-hairs. Mars will get walloped too when the CME arrives there on Jan.25th.

Already the front of the storm is now being felt as space radiation (energized protons) speeds by Earth, states the Spaceweather.com website. The high influx of charged particles hitting the magnetic field poses a hazard to everything from GPS signals, polar radio communications, power grids  and circuit boards on orbiting satellites.

What does this mean for chances of seeing Northern Lights? If the geomagnetic storm becomes moderate to strong then auroras may creep down to southern latitudes like Texas and Georgia -but that’s pretty rare. Exactly how intense and widespread the sky show will be depends on how our planet’s magnetic field is oriented at the time when the storm arrives.

Best time to go outside will be between local midnight and pre-dawn hours. Face the northern sky and look for green or red glows to start near the horizon. Catching auroras with your camera is not hard. All you need to have is a tripod mounted DSLR camera with a wide angle lens, capable of taking exposures of up to 20 seconds with a timer.

As usual there are still too many unknowns to forecast reliably who, where, and when exactly will get a sky show when it comes to aurora, but one thing is for sure – you have to go outside and look up to even have a chance.

 

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.

Comments

  1. gary
    baguio city
    February 3, 2012, 11:02 pm

    i remembered the movie “The Knowing”, starred by Nicolas Cage. Its about a huge solar storm that destructs earth.

  2. anoop
    khd
    February 1, 2012, 1:17 am

    is it dangerous to us

  3. [...] is currently weathering the largest solar storm recorded in more than eight years, thanks to a giant wave of charged particles from the sun that [...]

  4. ritafay2012
    west virginia
    January 28, 2012, 11:55 am

    The air is thick!!!!

  5. ritafay2012
    wharncliffe wv,north east
    January 28, 2012, 11:54 am

    will this be the worst year ever????..Birds are falling dead around here and people are getting sick and not getting well..???:/

  6. Mauricio Rivera
    New Orleans, US
    January 27, 2012, 12:29 pm

    The storm’s already gone. It was only here on the 24th.

  7. Gregory Windrum
    SouthAfrica
    January 27, 2012, 12:41 am

    Actually I think it’s great an amazing force of intergalactic nature time to take the rich mans money to develope the technology for the future .
    Keep our planet safe.

  8. IRON MAN
    USA
    January 26, 2012, 8:43 pm

    its the 26 of january and im still alive so i guess it dos not kill humans or penguins or somthing so YAY!!! i really like the picture its so beautiful even tho its scared ppl to death ;) jk THE POWER OF THE SUN!!!!

  9. [...] planets is recovering from the largest solar storm recorded in more than eight years, thanks to a giant wave of charged particles from the sun that [...]

  10. [...] It’s been an incredible week for space weather, thanks to a nasty sunspot that hurled a cloud of superheated gas and charged particles toward the Earth. [...]

  11. A random person
    somewhere in the pacific
    January 25, 2012, 9:16 pm

    Could this send molten metals in to the atmosphere, causing the wird groaning being heard around earth. The metals could be changing shape with the magnetosphere.

  12. zoey
    illinios,chicago
    January 25, 2012, 7:42 pm

    could i see this light thing of the sun in chicago, the windy city??/
    pleasde comment back:

  13. nonsstop
    orange co. HB
    January 25, 2012, 10:25 am

    This is serious lol… screw the show of the lights! This has been known 4 2+ yrs by nasa and scientists! Ppl need to be aware asap! Go to the nasa site, and see real time incoming data. Think about it… its supposed 2 be 80° today lol a day ago the high was 50° So. Cal. We could face an Amish style way of life soon…

  14. Rochel
    phil
    January 25, 2012, 8:07 am

    is it harmful to us?how it can affect to us in our daily routine?

  15. somebody
    January 25, 2012, 8:03 am

    will d world end this year??? if yes or no y????

  16. [...] is currently weathering the largest solar storm recorded in more than eight years, thanks to a giant wave of charged particles from the sun that [...]

  17. James
    Madrid, Spain
    January 25, 2012, 6:09 am

    After a solar storm, when and how are electronic systems recoverd from that interruption? Are satellites exposed to a high risk to this radiations?
    Its sayd that 2012 will have more solar storms.

  18. cristy
    manila
    January 25, 2012, 1:09 am

    does this solar storm has an effect on living things especially humans?

  19. Mdeepaksri
    Chennai
    January 24, 2012, 11:36 pm

    When ìt wìll happen??? Did any1 seen that on 23rd of jan???
    Catch me in face book as Deepak Sri

  20. [...] is currently weathering the largest solar storm recorded in more than eight years, thanks to a giant wave of charged particles from the sun that [...]

  21. [...] is currently weathering the largest solar storm recorded in more than eight years, thanks to a giant wave of charged particles from the sun that [...]

  22. Rajendra
    Brampton
    January 24, 2012, 5:10 pm

    I am living in Brampton, Ontario. This city is near Toronto. Can I see Northern Lights from here?

  23. dina
    geneva, switzerland
    January 24, 2012, 4:37 pm

    aside from Auroras, what are the expected effects on radio reception,on electronic appliances, and people’s health ?

  24. Emily Stuart
    United States
    January 24, 2012, 4:27 pm

    Is there any chance that the lights will be visible from central Maine? If so, when would be the best time to look for them? Thanks!

  25. Virginia Ojeda
    Los Angeles, CA.
    January 24, 2012, 4:26 pm

    This is very scary news! So I am guessing most of the northern part of the United States will be effected and the bottom half won’t?

  26. Emily Stuart
    United States
    January 24, 2012, 4:25 pm

    Is there any chance that the lights will be visible in central Maine tonight? If so, when would be the best time to look? Thanks!

  27. Chris
    Montreal
    January 24, 2012, 3:37 pm

    Where in Montreal, or nearby would be a good place to view this from?

  28. Debbie Di
    Cleveland, OH
    January 24, 2012, 3:26 pm

    Does this kind of sun activity have any affect on wildlife? My backyard bird feeders are very quite today. I haven’t seen birds at all — which is extremely unusual for this time of year.

  29. Chris
    Montreal
    January 24, 2012, 2:54 pm

    I’m in Montreal today, and saw that’s where you were from. Where on Mont-Royal would be the best place to look for the lights, and what time? Or would you recommend a better place to view this from?

  30. daniel ramirez
    Chalco, Edo. de Mexico
    January 24, 2012, 10:59 am

    dudo realmente ver una aurora boreal desde el punto en el que me encuentro, pero sera posible ?

  31. puculwa solwandle
    South Africa
    January 24, 2012, 10:27 am

    How visible will it be in South Africa?

  32. Melinda
    Namibia
    January 24, 2012, 10:11 am

    Is it possible to be here at namibia

  33. Geoff
    Golden, BC
    January 24, 2012, 10:04 am

    Dude!! Post a pic of the earth with the projected aurora zone highlighted so people can see for themselves whether or not their town will see this phenomena.

  34. Sherri
    CT
    January 24, 2012, 9:38 am

    It is the 24th of January- will we see them in CT tonight or tomorrow? Tommoorw is my birthday- what a candle!!

  35. Brittany
    Kentucky
    January 24, 2012, 9:31 am

    Will we be able to see it in Kentucky?

  36. Nelda
    North Texas
    January 24, 2012, 8:59 am

    Our Sun is such a powerful force and it makes me wonder the affects that this solar radiation could have on us. Yes, the Aurora will undoubtedly be beautiful but, some of the most dangerous things are beautiful, are they not?

  37. gloria rogers
    Parker AZ USA
    January 24, 2012, 8:32 am

    sat morning at sunrise I saw the most beautiful red, gold, like molten metal across 3/4 of our sky, a person I know in the MO. USA saw a red sky that was very unusual to him also.. Could all of this be because of the flare ?

  38. [...] posted here: Solar Storm Hits Earth – News Watch .gplus #___plusone_0, .gplus #___plusone_1,.gplus #___plusone_2, .gplus #___plusone_3, [...]

  39. Tahlia
    Quebec
    January 24, 2012, 8:12 am

    I’m guessing there is no chance at all to see auroras in south quebec like Sherbrooke or Montreal?!

  40. yolandi
    south africa
    January 24, 2012, 7:38 am

    where will it hit worst. some say in cape town. is that true?

  41. A Smit
    South Africa
    January 24, 2012, 7:19 am

    What about South Africa?

  42. Geo
    aalborg, denmark.
    January 24, 2012, 6:51 am

    What about aalborg? i´m not sure about the time… 4:00pm? or midnight, i cant belive this!!! =>

  43. [...] National Geographic [...]

  44. Johan Rasmus Steenberg
    South Africa
    January 24, 2012, 5:23 am

    Do you think we’ll be able to see it in South Africa or is it too far south? Really hope so never seen it before

  45. Katy
    Italy
    January 24, 2012, 4:16 am

    i need pictures!!!!

  46. Jerume Estillero
    Philippines
    January 24, 2012, 3:43 am

    I’ve been researching with this one since 2011… and i concluded that this might happen… i didnt tell to anyone because im afraid that my calculations was wrong… but here it is…. the most thing im afraid of is its force/power…
    i dont have any equipment to observe the coming wave (EMP)
    but ……… Can it penetrate the earths crust? or maybe just a lil.. but that lil word can cause a serious damage right? im really afraid of this..

  47. Uncle Chuckster
    Albuquerque, NM
    January 24, 2012, 2:30 am

    I hope it knocks “American Idol” and Dancing with the Stars” off the air forever.

  48. Stephanie
    clearlake ca
    January 24, 2012, 12:51 am

    My sister told me about this. I live in Northern California. will this be harmful for humans? Is it dangerious?

  49. ganesan.m
    india
    January 24, 2012, 12:32 am

    if we get any problem because of this problem?

  50. [...] Radiation StormSpace.comSolar StormCleveland News – Fox 8Fox News -Washington Post -National Geographicall 604 news [...]

  51. sandra
    tn
    January 23, 2012, 11:09 pm

    ay chances on residents of East Tennessee getting to view the northern lights?

  52. jobelle Bautista
    Philippines
    January 23, 2012, 11:09 pm

    is there any way or even a little chance we can see the aurora here in the philippines? :)

  53. Joel
    January 23, 2012, 11:05 pm

    So exciting! How about Boston? I noticed that we’re at a 51.7 magnetic latitude

  54. Jim
    Michigan
    January 23, 2012, 10:40 pm

    Great article!!!How about michigan?

  55. George B
    California
    January 23, 2012, 10:39 pm

    What time does this happen and does this happen in california?

  56. Sage
    PA
    January 23, 2012, 10:00 pm

    is this happening in Pa because im scared and i wanna know if it will affect us in Pa . please respond !

  57. [...] Check out the inferred image below of the sun to also see the eruption. For more on the storms and the threat of radiation, check out our friends at [NatGeo] [...]

  58. Carlos, Eduardo Castillo
    United States
    January 23, 2012, 9:36 pm

    Can we see it in New York City, if so at what time I’m so exicted i never seen a northern light

  59. Leah
    Alberta
    January 23, 2012, 9:14 pm

    Could this be what is responsible for the strange noises heard world wide ??

  60. Katherine Wormull-Hamilton
    Estados Unidos
    January 23, 2012, 9:09 pm

    Can it be seeing in Indianapolis,Indiana.USA.?

  61. brandon
    terre haute IN
    January 23, 2012, 8:55 pm

    will the radio stations go out and if so for how long ?

  62. Allana
    British Columbia
    January 23, 2012, 8:51 pm

    I thought solar storms are supposed to be very dangerous :|

  63. Katherine Wormull-Hamilton
    Estados Unidos
    January 23, 2012, 8:43 pm

    will it be visible in Indianapolis,In.and if so at what time?

  64. Sandy Pahl
    Kalkaska, Michigan
    January 23, 2012, 8:35 pm

    100 miles S of the Mackinaw Bridge…. if we might be able to see, is it tonight we should look or tomorrow night?

  65. Andrew Fazekas
    January 23, 2012, 8:32 pm

    Nothing forecast for that far south.

  66. JOhn
    Quebec
    January 23, 2012, 8:30 pm

    I remember when the lights went out in Quebec in 1989 due to a solar storm. It was the middle of the night and the sky was bright orange.

  67. Kathy Aller
    Southwestern Pennsylvania
    January 23, 2012, 8:18 pm

    I hope that we can see the Aurora down this way. We saw the ones back in 2005 here. They were magnificent. I could only hope that the same would be true of this one.

  68. seth
    barbados
    January 23, 2012, 8:10 pm

    Can it be seen in the caribbean e.g. Barbados or Trinidad?

  69. [...] from speedy solar flare Sunday night already bombarding Earth …Washington PostNational Geographic -San Francisco Chronicle -Patch.comall 592 news [...]

  70. Andrew Fazekas
    January 23, 2012, 8:06 pm

    Can you see auroras tomorrow? NOAA expects aurora boundary to be down to about 52 degrees magnetic latitude.

    Go to the NOAA webpage enter your city and find out if you are at or above 52 magnetic latitude: http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/Aurora/

  71. //outdoordecklightings.com/
    Indonesia
    January 23, 2012, 8:03 pm

    very dangerous

  72. Stuart
    Maine
    January 23, 2012, 7:59 pm

    My Cairn Terrier , who goes into nervous shaking over noises such as the smoke detector, suddenly went into heavy trembling for 15 minutes at about 9:30 AM today. I couldn’t find the reason, and now suspect the arriving solar wave blast to be perceptible to him.

  73. Kallee
    Seattle, WA
    January 23, 2012, 7:58 pm

    Do you think there is any chance I could see the Aurora from Seattle? I’ve never seen one before, so I don’t really know if it’s possible for this area? Thank you :)

    • Andrew Fazekas
      January 23, 2012, 8:14 pm

      predictions are that there is a small chance that storming levels may put auroras as far south as Seattle. Pending clear skies of course, best chance is to look towards the north horizon in the hours before local dawn. And of course less light pollution is better.

  74. aditya james
    India
    January 23, 2012, 7:52 pm

    Would this be visible in Delhi, India ???

  75. Andrew Fazekas
    January 23, 2012, 7:48 pm

    Strong Solar Radiation at storm level S3 now. Check out this great NOAA chart for an explanation of what this means:

    http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/NOAAscales/index.html#SolarRadiationStorms

  76. francesca
    london
    January 23, 2012, 7:40 pm

    what about us in the UK. can we see anything? how blessed we would be if we could

  77. Kelly
    adelaide, australia
    January 23, 2012, 7:32 pm

    Can this be dangerous to humans in anyway?

  78. roger benz
    January 23, 2012, 7:30 pm

    will southern ontario hamilton area see anything hope fully? Is there any dangers

  79. Jessica
    North Georgia, USA
    January 23, 2012, 7:22 pm

    So would we be able to view it from North Georgia in the USA?

    • Andrew Fazekas
      January 23, 2012, 8:16 pm

      Forecasts that I can see are showing chances are not there for auroras that far south

  80. Greg
    New york
    January 23, 2012, 7:20 pm

    How far south will they be? Can I expect to see them on long island or southern new England?

  81. Rina
    Canada
    January 23, 2012, 7:17 pm

    Would tonight be a good time to watch out for the Northern Lights in Calgary (Jan 23 10pm-Jan 24 2am)? Thanks!

  82. Kevin Crosby
    Nova Scotia Canada
    January 23, 2012, 7:17 pm

    Cool picture shows the power of the sun. Will I be able to see this in Nova Scotia.

  83. Josie Pease
    Maine, United States
    January 23, 2012, 7:12 pm

    Will it be possible to see the aurora borealis in Maine? I really hope so.

  84. Gareth
    New Zealand
    January 23, 2012, 7:10 pm

    So we’ll see this in Southern New Zealand too? Can’t wait.

  85. Nadine
    United States
    January 23, 2012, 6:39 pm

    Should we unplug all computers televisions and other things

    • Andrew Fazekas
      January 23, 2012, 7:37 pm

      The power grids at the source would be knocked out, if the geomagnetic storm is strong enough. But not likely with this one.

  86. Northern Lights | skin.and.bones.
    January 23, 2012, 6:38 pm

    [...] – it looks like we will be hit with a Solar Storm in the next day or so. According to NASA and NatGeo – we might be able to see the Northern [...]

  87. Cassaundra Drake
    Maryland
    January 23, 2012, 6:36 pm

    Will it be visible from somewhere like Maryland?! I really hope so…

  88. Maria
    Washington, D.C.
    January 23, 2012, 6:22 pm

    What about Wash., D.C.? Dare I hope?

  89. Solar Storm Hits Earth - tDiscuss
    January 23, 2012, 6:20 pm

    [...] After a weekend filled with great auroral activity in Northern Canada and Scandinavia, thanks to a strong gust of solar wind coming off the Sun, the Earth is about to get hit again -by the biggest blast of solar radiation in 7 years. http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/… [...]

  90. Audrey
    Brazil
    January 23, 2012, 6:09 pm

    And what about the south hemisfere?
    Could we see something?

    Tks

    • Andrew Fazekas
      January 23, 2012, 6:20 pm

      The Southern Hemisphere equivalent are the Southern Lights, or Aurora Australis which are really only visible in high latitudes like the most southern parts of South America, Australia and of course Antarctica.

  91. Riel
    Manila
    January 23, 2012, 6:03 pm

    Question: Any chance we’d be able to see the Aurora from as far South Asia as the Philippines? Thanks. :D

    • Andrew Fazekas
      January 23, 2012, 6:17 pm

      Unfortunately the Philippines are too low in latitude for aurora to reach.

  92. [...] NASA officials say. The sun eruption triggered the most powerful radiation storm since …Solar Storm Hits EarthNational GeographicSolar weather sparks super sightsmsnbc.comPlanes expected to reroute following [...]

  93. [...] NASA officials say. The sun eruption triggered the most powerful radiation storm since …Solar Storm Hits EarthNational GeographicSolar weather sparks super sightsmsnbc.comPlanes expected to reroute following [...]