Solar storm could supercharge Northern Lights, disrupt cell reception
Josh Elliott, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, September 12, 2014 8:56AM EDT
A pair of massive solar flares will blast the Earth with a storm of particles late Friday, painting parts of the night sky with an Aurora Borealis and potentially disrupting satellite and cell phone signals.
The Aurora Borealis, commonly known as the Northern Lights, may be visible as ribbons of green and blue in the night sky as far south as New England and Pennsylvania, experts say. That means Canadians across the country will have a good chance to see the Aurora Borealis on Friday night, and perhaps on Saturday as well.
The Aurora Borealis is caused by solar particles reacting with the Earth's upper atmosphere. In this case, the solar particles will be coming from a pair of massive X-class solar flares that erupted on the sun's surface earlier this week.
York University astronomy professor Paul Delaney says the Earth's atmosphere will protect us from the harmful radiation in this solar storm, but some technologies could be briefly affected.
"It's the satellites in our upper atmosphere that are at risk," he told CTV's Canada AM on Friday morning.
Delaney said the solar storm will temporarily interfere with GPS and cell phone signals, and may cause some static or dropped phone calls. The particles could also scramble television satellites, but the energy will not cause lasting damage.
"We're talking about interference, not destruction of the signals," Delaney said. He added that the effects could last for a few minutes or a few hours.
Scientists refer to such events as coronal mass ejections, which occur when the sun throws out millions of tons of charged particles into space.
Delaney described this coronal mass ejection as a "large cloud" that has already started to wash over the planet.
But people shouldn't worry about it, he said. If anything, Canadians should go outside and catch sight of the Northern Lights, which don't typically occur in southern parts of the country.
"We've got a really good chance tonight," he said.