A 'severe' solar storm causes northern lights to occur in France and part of Europe

A 'severe' solar storm causes northern lights to occur in France and part of Europe

Not many people have heard of it. The spectacular northern lights, on the night of Friday, May 10 to Saturday, May 11, can be admired much further south than where they would normally be observed. Europe, including France, was concerned.

This phenomenon, which is widely circulated on social media, is linked to a “severe” solar storm, an event that has not occurred in more than twenty years. This Level 5 geomagnetic storm – the maximum graduation – observed on Friday by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) is caused by a series of coronal mass ejections reaching Earth. This last one is “Explosions of energetic particles and magnetic fields initiated by the Sun” Sean Dahl, of the US Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), explained.

The Sun is currently approaching its peak activity, according to a cycle that returns every eleven years. These coronal mass ejections—at least seven of which have been observed directed toward Earth—come from a sunspot about sixteen times the diameter of Earth. It moves at a speed of several hundred kilometers per second. The authority said that the first of them reached Earth on Friday at around 6:30 pm (Paris time).

“The gift of space weather”

The northern lights were visible over much of Europe at the beginning of the night. In the United States, they should be able to be seen over most of the northern half of the country, perhaps as low as Alabama or northern California, according to NOAA. “If you're somewhere where it's dark and cloudless with little light pollution, you might see some pretty amazing northern lightssaid Rob Steinberg, a scientist at SWPC. And that's really the gift of space weather. »

Matthew Owens, professor of space physics at the University of Reading, explained to AFP that this type of storm particularly affects the northern and southern latitudes, around the poles. And “The stronger the storm, the lower it is in latitude.”It is to explain.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said the storm is expected to continue through the weekend, with more coronal mass emissions arriving. But it's not just accompanied by stunning northern lights. “GPS, power grids, spacecraft, navigation satellites and other technology may be affected.”She explained.

In October 2003, during the “Halloween Storms”, a power outage occurred in Sweden and transformers were damaged in South Africa. No other severe solar storm has been recorded on Earth since then.

A solar flare, shown by the bright flash at lower right, was captured on May 9, 2024 by NASA.
Aurora borealis in the Jura sky, night from May 10 to 11, 2024. Aurora borealis in the Jura sky, night from May 10 to 11, 2024.

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Airlines have warned

“We have notified all the operators we work with, such as satellite, telecommunications and of course the power grid operators in North America.”Sean Dahl explained during a press conference that the alert status for the geomagnetic storm remains at level four.

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Rob Steinberg specified that his agency is in very regular contact with NASA, which ensures the safety of astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS), who are more vulnerable to solar radiation. A radiation alert has also been issued, but only at 1 on a scale of 5, so it is not cause for concern at this time.

Regarding air traffic, the US Civil Aviation Agency (FAA) said. “Don't expect serious consequences.”. The US aviation regulator said geomagnetic storms could disrupt navigation instruments and high-frequency radio transmissions, adding that it advised airlines and pilots to be cautious.” Expect “ Possible disturbances.

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The most significant solar storm ever recorded, according to NASA, dates back to 1859. Also known as the Carrington Event, it corresponds to a Category 5 event, and seriously disrupted telegraph communications.

Aurora borealis in the sky over Brandenburg (Germany), on the night of May 10 to 11, 2024.Aurora borealis in the sky over Brandenburg (Germany), on the night of May 10 to 11, 2024.
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