Tue. May 28th, 2024

In pictures: First ‘extreme’ geomagnetic storm in 20 years triggers astonishing auroras

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell May16,2024
The most powerful solar storm in more than two decades was responsible for spectacular celestial light shows in skies from Tasmania to Britain — and threatening possible disruptions to satellites and power grids — with the Bureau of Meteorology predicting more to come.

The first of several coronal mass ejections (CMEs) — expulsions of plasma and magnetic fields from the sun — came just after 1600 GMT on Friday (2am Saturday AEST), according to the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

The northern lights glow in the night sky.

The northern lights glow in the night sky above the village of Daillens, Switzerland. Source: AAP / Laurent Gillieron/EPA

Aurora borealis glowing.

The aurora borealis glow in Merseyside, England. Source: AAP / Peter Byrne/PA

It was later upgraded to an “extreme” geomagnetic storm — the first since the so-called “Halloween Storms” of October 2003 caused blackouts in Sweden and damaged power infrastructure in South Africa.

Social media lit up with people posting pictures of auroras borealis and australis from Australia and northern Europe.

Authorities notified satellite operators, airlines and the power grid to take precautionary steps for potential disruptions caused by changes to Earth’s magnetic field.

Officials said people should have the normal backup plans in place for power outages, such as having flashlights, batteries and radios at hand.

Where can I see aurora australis?

On Saturday, the Bureau of Meteorology’s Australian Space Weather Forecasting Centre said it had issued a geomagnetic storm warning at 6:20am that indicated a chance of G5 (extreme) geomagnetic storm conditions.
It said observed geomagnetic conditions within Australia were currently lower than the planetary average, and were at G3 (strong conditions). It said the intensity of geomagnetic storms in Australia is usually lower than the planetary average.

“The Bureau predicts that these geomagnetic conditions are likely to continue throughout 11 May,” it said.

People using their phone cameras to take photos of northern lights.

People visit St Mary’s lighthouse in Whitley Bay, England to see the aurora borealis. Source: Getty / Ian Forsyth

The bureau said when G5 geomagnetic conditions occur, bright auroras “will be visible at unusually low latitudes, including dark-sky locations near Sydney and Perth”.

It said auroras may also be visible from as far north as southern Queensland and other low-latitude locations.

“Geomagnetic storms of G5 level can potentially disrupt: critical infrastructure such as power grids, causing power outages, [and] satellite services, affecting communications and global position, navigation and timing services that use high-frequency radio communication.”

Northern lights glow in the sky above a road with trees on either side.

The Northern Lights appear in the night sky over East Brandenburg. Source: AAP / Patrick Pleul/AP

The most powerful geomagnetic storm in recorded history, known as the Carrington Event, occurred in September 1859, named after British astronomer Richard Carrington.

Unlike solar flares, which travel at the speed of light and reach Earth in around eight minutes, CMEs travel at a more sedate pace, with officials putting the current average at 800km per second.

They emanated from a massive sunspot cluster that is 17 times wider than our planet. The sun is approaching the peak of an 11-year cycle that brings heightened activity.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

Related Post

One thought on “In pictures: First ‘extreme’ geomagnetic storm in 20 years triggers astonishing auroras”
  1. Witnessing such mesmerizing auroras must have been truly breathtaking. Let’s hope authorities are prepared to mitigate any potential disruptions caused by these intense geomagnetic storms. Stay safe, everyone!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *