This could be the biggest solar storm of 2020.
It may be getting colder, but the night sky is giving you a wagonload of reasons to go outside in the cold. This month will feature the great conjunction (some are calling it the “Christmas star”) and the best meteor shower of the year. December will now also have the potential to host a stunning northern lights display.
The Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) has issued G1, G2, and G3 geomagnetic storm watches for the nights of Wednesday, December 9, and Thursday, December 10. The brief period of a G3 storm alert on the night of December 9 could mean that the northern lights will be seen relatively far south in the continental United States. If it arrives as expected, that could mean a view as far south as parts of northern Illinois and Pennsylvania, among many other places across the country.
The watches issued by the SWPC are a measure of the solar activity hitting Earth’s atmosphere. That solar energy can result in the beautiful auroral displays visible at both of the Earth’s poles. When an especially strong burst of solar energy from a coronal mass ejection (CME) arrives, that can make the aurora borealis visible in areas where it doesn’t appear with much frequency. You know, like much of the US.
Space Weather Message Code: WATA50 Serial Number: 64 Issue Time: 2020 Dec 08 1506 UTC WATCH: Geomagnetic Storm Category G3 Predicted Highest Storm Level Predicted by Day: Dec 09: G1 (Minor) Dec 10: G3 (Strong) Dec 11: G2 (Moderate) Potential Impacts: Area of impact primarily poleward of 50 degrees Geomagnetic Latitude. Induced Currents - Power system voltage irregularities possible, false alarms may be triggered on some protection devices. Spacecraft - Systems may experience surface charging; increased drag on low Earth-orbit satellites and orientation problems may occur. Navigation - Intermittent satellite navigation (GPS) problems, including loss-of-lock and increased range error may occur. Radio - HF (high frequency) radio may be intermittent. Aurora - Aurora may be seen as low as Pennsylvania to Iowa to Oregon.
HERE’S HOW THE AURORA MIGHT LOOK
Those predictions, however, are forecasts and not guarantees. “While SWPC forecasters are fairly confident in CME arrival at Earth, timing and geomagnetic storm intensity are less certain,” the center wrote in its alert.