The Aurora Borealis can be seen over Northern Europe on Tuesday night because of a solar storm hitting the Earth. People in Scotland, Ireland, Iceland, Wales, Norway, Finland, and Sweden said they could see the Northern Lights.
UPDATE on Wednesday: The Northern Lights could again show up Wednesday, say US federal forecasters.
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The solar storm, described by U.S. forecasters as severe, started hitting the Earth on Tuesday, and it could potentially impact GPS tracking and power grids. It also means that the Northern Lights may be seen farther south of where they’re normally seen.
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Aurora borealis over Stockholm Sweden tonight! 🙂 pic.twitter.com/kkZgXPt2YK
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On its website, the Space Weather Prediction Center said: “A G4 (Severe) geomagnetic storm was observed today at 07/1358 UTC (09:58 am EDT). This is the response to a pair of CMEs observed leaving the Sun on 15 March. Shown here is a model depiction of where the aurora is likely visible. Storm conditions are forecast to persist for the next several hours before beginning to wane down towards the end of the UT day.”
Some forecasters said that the Northern Lights might be seen as far south as the Dakotas, New York (just above NYC), Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington state.
So far no damage has been reported. Two blasts of magnetic plasma left the sun on Sunday, combined and arrived on Earth about 15 hours earlier and much stronger than expected, said Thomas Berger, director of the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado.
This storm ranks a 4, called severe, on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 1-to-5 scale for geomagnetic effects. It is the strongest solar storm to blast Earth since the fall of 2013. It’s been nearly a decade since a level 5 storm, termed extreme, has hit Earth.
Forecasters figured it would come late Tuesday night into Wednesday morning; instead, it arrived just before 10 a.m. EDT. They had forecast it to be a level 1.
“It’s significantly stronger than expected,” Berger said. Forecasters had predicted a glancing blow instead of dead-on hit. Another theory is that the combination of the two storms made it worse, but it’s too early to tell if that’s so, he said.
The storm seemed to be weakening slightly, but that may not continue, and it could last all day, officials said. It has the potential to disrupt power grids but only temporarily. It also could cause degradation of the global positioning system, so tracking maps and locators may not be as precise as normal.
Often these types of storms come with bursts of radiation that can affect satellite operations, but this one has not, Berger said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.