An coronal mass ejection (CME) that resulted from a surprise M3.95 solar flare launched a from the Sun on Monday has prompted the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) to issue a G1 geomagnetic storm watch for Veterans day and November 12th. As the CME arrives at Earth, aurora hunters may be treated to a display of northern lights further south than normal.
A G1 storm watch means that the KP, a global scale of geomagnetic and aurora activity, may reach five out on it’s 0-9 range. As the KP rises higher, aurora borealis can be seen at lower latitudes. KP=5 indicates that the lights can be seen throughout Canada, along the northern boarder of the Continental United States, Northern Europe, and southern New Zealand.
KP is notoriously hard to predict, about 50% of the time a G1 watch is in effect, the KP does not actually rise to that level, but a G1 watch also means that the KP could easily rise higher than five. If you want to know the current KP readings, your best option is to monitor live KP trackers, such as Northern Lights Now’s current live KP chart, which give an accurate KP forecast 35-70 minutes in advance.
The flare that launched the CME was a surprise. It launched from active region 2449, which had a Beta magnetic structure. Typically, active regions need to have a “delta” sunspot in their group and be classified Beta-Delta or Beta-Delta-Gamma. Nonetheless, the solar flare that launched was spectactular. Here is an animated gif of the solar region while the flare was happening. Note that this is a zoomed in image, but that the several Earths could fit in the flare area.
When flares eruptions are long duration, like this one was, they can generate CMEs. A coronal mass ejection is a cloud of solar plasma that shoots from the Sun. When a CME is moving towards Earth, it typically arrives between 2 and 4 days later. As the plasma cloud passes earth, it disrupts the magenetosphere and sends charged particles into our upper atmosphere. It is the interaction of those particles with the gases in out atmosphere that cause the dancing northern lights. Don’t worry though! This storm won’t be strong enough to have any impact at Earth’s surface – just enjoy the show!