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Aurora Alert: Sun Eruptions Could Push Northern Lights Southward

The latest in a spate of solar flares and CMEs heading Earth's way could boost the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, this weekend.
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The sun has been bombarding Mother Earth with super bursts of plasma all week, and another one is headed toward our magnetosphere on June 27.

Though this was a “mere” M-Class, or medium-strength, flare, it could make for some spectacular auroras at lower-than-usual latitudes, as did storms earlier this week, according to NASA. Thus, space experts said, much of Turtle Island might be poised for bombardment by dancing light.

That one was a coronal mass ejection, or CME, material that “exploded from the sun at about 780 miles per second” at 10:24 p.m. EDT on June 20, 2015 and arrived at Earth at 1:59 p.m. EDT on June 22, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) said in a statement. That combined with two other CMEs to send the Northern Lights much farther south than usual.

“As a result of the geomagnetic storm, aurora were sighted in several mid-latitude locations, including Virginia in the United States and in the United Kingdom,” the SDO said.

The latest one was a mid-level solar flare that peaked at 4:16 a.m. EDT on June 25, the SDO said in showcasing the image it had captured.

Solar flares, powerful bursts of radiation, can ruffle the atmosphere at the level traversed by GPS and communications signals, the observatory explained. The recent burst of activity comes as the sun’s 11-year active cycle is winding down. It has been one of the weakest solar maximums in recorded history, and these are its last throes.

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This bout emanates from sunspot AR2371, which, while decaying, “still poses a threat for geoeffective explosions,” according to Spaceweather.com on June 26. “Since June 21, four CMEs have hit Earth's magnetic field. A fifth is on the way. Sunspot AR2371 erupted again during the early hours of June 25, producing an M7.9-class solar flare and a lopsided CME. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory photographed the storm cloud, which raced away from the sun faster than 2000 km/s (4.5 million mph).”

That’s the one that is scheduled to hit Mother Earth’s magnetic field on June 27, Spaceweather.com said.

“According to NOAA computer models there is a 79 percent chance of polar geomagnetic storms,” Spaceweather.com said. “High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras.”

Photo: NASA/SDO

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of an M7.9-class solar flare on June 25, 2015. This flare originated from the same sunspot group that has been producing minor to mid-level flare since first appearing on the face of the sun.