Strong solar storm could disrupt communications and produce northern lights in Canada and the US.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – An unusually strong solar storm could produce the northern lights in the United States this weekend and potentially disrupt power and communications.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a rare severe geomagnetic storm warning when a solar flare reached Earth on Friday afternoon, hours ahead of schedule. The effects were expected to last all weekend and possibly into next week.

NOAA alerted operators of power plants and spacecraft in orbit to take precautions, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Most people here on planet Earth won’t have to do anything,” said Rob Steenburgh, a scientist at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

According to NOAA, the storm could produce the northern lights as far south as Alabama and northern California. But it was difficult to predict and experts stressed that it would not be the dramatic curtains of color normally associated with the northern lights, but rather splashes of greenish hues.

Northern Lights in Canada

“That’s really the gift of space weather: the dawnSteenburgh said. He and his colleagues said the best. dawn The views can come from phone cameras, which capture light better than the naked eye.

Take a photo of the sky and “there might be a little gift there for you,” said Mike Bettwy, head of operations at the prediction center.

The most intense solar storm in recorded history, in 1859, caused auroras in Central America and possibly even Hawaii. “We’re not anticipating that,” but it could come close, said Shawn Dahl, a NOAA space weather forecaster.

This storm, ranked fourth on a scale of 1 to 5, poses a risk to power grids’ high-voltage transmission lines, not power lines typically found in homes, Dahl told reporters. . Satellites could also be affected, which in turn could disrupt navigation and communication services here on Earth.

An extreme geomagnetic storm in 2003, for example, knocked out power in Sweden and damaged power transformers in South Africa.

The Sun has produced strong solar flares since Wednesday, causing at least seven plasma explosions. Each eruption, known as a coronal mass ejection, can contain billions of tons of plasma and magnetic field from the Sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona.

The flares appear to be associated with a sunspot that is 16 times the diameter of Earth, according to NOAA. It’s all part of solar activity that increases as the sun approaches the peak of its 11-year cycle.

NASA said the storm did not pose a serious threat to the seven astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The biggest concern is rising radiation levels and, according to Steenburgh, the crew could move to a better protected part of the station if necessary.

The increased radiation could also threaten some of NASA’s scientific satellites. The extremely sensitive instruments will be turned off, if necessary, to prevent damage, said Antti Pulkkinen, director of the space agency’s heliophysics science division.

Several spacecraft focused on the Sun are monitoring all the action.

“This is exactly the kind of thing we want to look at,” Pulkkinen said.

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