Northern Lights Now – A solar storm resulting from a pair of CMEs arrived at Earth on December 19, 2015 and induced 30 hours of G1-G2 aurora activity. It proved to be one of the strongest geomagnetic storms of solar cycle 24. Aurora hunters around the world were able to capture stunning photographs of green, red, pink, and purple swirling through the sky. NLN will be writing a complete recap post, but here is a teaser of amazing tweets that has been in the NLN feed over the last two days.
Rob Write Photos – based in Maine from the evening of Dec 20 just after sunset:
An amazing night of Aurora! It’s possible the two storms mentioned detailed in this post have merged together, producing a prolonged geomagnetic event. Storm levels have been at or above G1 (KP=5) for 15 hours. Bz has maintained a strong southward component. All signs point to another good night of aurora in northern Europe as far south as the Netherland and Germany. If you are planning to go out tonight, don’t forget the Last Minute Aurora Viewing Preparation Guide
UPDATE: 12/20/2015 1:30 AM EST
The Bz has shifted strongly south. Aurora reports are starting to come in. If the storms maintains it’s southward orientation, this is going to be a good storm.
UPDATE: 12/19/2015 10:40 PM EST
The CME has arrived at Earth. It arrived about 16 hours later than the earliest estimates. Now watch for the Bz orientation of the magnetic fields. If it stays negative, we could be in for an amazing show!
UPDATE: 12/18/2015 4:00 PM EST
EPAM is showing a clear rise in particles, the CME arrival is expected any moment now.
Two eruptions on the Sun have unleashed a coronal mass ejection (CME) towards Earth. When it arrives it is expected to induce a G2 geomagnetic storm with the potential for aurora displays at mid-latitudes. The predicted timing of the arrival is good for Europe and excellent for North America. If it arrives on schedule, space weather predictions often are accurate within 3-6 hours, the northern lights show should start in Europe just before midnight, and it will be active as the Sun sets in the United States and Canada. It should last 6+ hours once it begins.
Imaging satellites in space, both ACE and SOHO, captured wonderful clear images of the eruptions. The explosions are so clear that anyone viewing them can easily identify the location and duration. In the video montage below, each view of the sun is campured through cameras with different lenses. Each sequence is roughly 80 images from SDO stitched together as a timelapse. The first, red, shows the eruptions at the 304 angstrom wavelength, followed by 335 angstroms (blue) and then 211 angstroms (purple). In each sequence the first eruptions is dead center and is from a C6.69 flare. The second is an elongated eruption to the South and East.
When flares like this occur, sometimes they eject hot plasma into space in the form of a CME. The LASCO camera aboard SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) satellite is a specialized tool with an arm and disk in front of the lens designed to block the light coming directly from the Sun. This enables the camera to view the CME as light reflects off of it as it travels into space.
Both eruptions in the video above generated CMEs. The video below shows the raw image of the sun through lasco on the left, and then a black and white image of the difference between each set of frames coming from the those frames. The differential image makes the size and shape of the CME apparent. When the CME is mostly in one direction it means the CME is off the Earth sun line, but when the CME appears on all sides of the Sun, as is the case in this video, it indicates the CME is headed straight towards Earth. Space weather scientists can measure the speed of the CME from these images and use that estimate to predict when the CME will arrive at Earth.
What to Expect:
As of writing, the forecast is for aurora activity to begin at 21:00GMT on December 18th (4:00pm EST), and to increase over the following 6-9 hours. The NLN 3-day auroracast clock is updated two times per day, visit it for the most up-to-date forecast.
As the CME approached Earth, the first signs it is approaching will be that the EPAM rises – this happens because the approaching plasma in the CME is radiating electrons and protons. Once it arrives, the solar wind speed, the Bt and proton density, this data is available at spaceweatherlive.com, will show a sudden increase. When that happens, watch the Bz – if it is negative aurora hunters are in for a good show. Also watch the live KP. This is the best metric there is for knowing when aurora may be visible, it offers a 40-70 minute forecast. The higher the KP is the lower latitude the aurora will be visible. Here is the NLN auroracast at the time of this post:
Over the last several months there has been a consistent pattern where corona holes are the primary source northern lights activity prompting geomagnetic storm watches. The current storm is no exception. On December 7th a large, clearly defined coronal hole was pointed directly at Earth. The high speed solar winds shooting out from that area on the Sun are expected to arrive at Earth on December 10th and December 11th. With their arrival, there is a chance for active aurora. Here’s a look at the hole in both AIA 211 and 193 side by side:
As the high speed wind stream arrives early on December 10th, expect the overall Interplanetary magenetic field to first increase. It will likely increase to above 10Bt (you can monitor it live at spaceweatherlive). After that, watch for the solar wind speed to increase. There’s a chance that the solar wind speed in this storm could exceed 600 km/s, up from ambient levels around 300-350 km/s. Once those happen, the Earth’s magnetic field will be primed to respond to any disturbances traveling with the wind, and to negative z-component of the magnetic field. If the Bz shifts to the south (there’s about a 50/50 chance) for a sustained period of time, the KP will rise and there will be a good chance for Aurora.
SWPC’s is currently estimating that there will be several 3-hour periods during which the KP may increase to G1 storming level. This could happen anytime over the 48 hour watch period, but is most likely in the periods indicated on the NLN 3-day AuroraCast clock:
During the storm, follow @northlightalert on Twitter for updates (and shares of photographers’ awesome northern lights photographs) and monitor the KP live.