A severe geomagnetic storm struck Earth early Tuesday morning, producing spectacular auroras that were spotted around the globe, including the pre-dawn skies in the northern United States.
Thomas Berger, director of the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado, said the event occurred 15 hours earlier than expected and was much stronger. It was just one notch below the highest category for a solar storm.
“Our models showed we were just going to receive a glancing blow from this cloud coming off the sun,” said Berger. “We are now thinking we caught more than just a glancing blow.”
In fact, Tuesday’s storm was the strongest to hit Earth since late 2013 and “one of two storms rated ‘severe’ in the current cycle of solar activity that started in 2008,” The Baltimore Sun reported.
People all over the world enjoyed the beautiful skies and captured them on camera.
However, there were some who brought up an oft-repeated question: Do solar storms affect human health?
The answer is quite simple: They don't.
To put it simply: a solar flare is an explosion of magnetic plasma on the sun which leaves its atmosphere and interacts with Earth’s magnetic field. This causes a geomagnetic or “solar” storm, which in turn produces colorful auroras.
These flares are sometimes accompanied by coronal mass ejections, which can cause harm to humans and other living organisms but our Earth, fortunately, has magnetosphere to protect us from that. The damage only occurs at high altitudes, for example, unshielded astronauts in space could be at risk of radiation poisoning.
However, CMEs have the potential disrupt technology on Earth, including telecommunications and navigation systems. They can produce electrical surges in power grids which can cause blackouts. On March 13, 1989, the entire Canadian province of Quebec suffered an electrical power blackout due to a solar storm.
The biggest solar storm on record happened in 1859 and is known as the Carrington Event after British astronomer Richard Carrington who first established the link between solar activity on the sun and geomagnetic disturbances on Earth.
Here’s video footage from NASA of the solar flare that barreled toward Earth last September: