The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is bracing for the likely arrival of a major geomagnetic storm and possible auroral activity over the next few days.
While it is geomagnetic storms that give rise to the beautiful Northern lights, they can also pose a serious threat for commercial and military satellite operators, power companies, astronauts, and they can even shorten the life of oil pipelines in Alaska by increasing pipeline corrosion.
Space Weather sources at NOAA/NASA indicate that a series of major solar flares and a subsequent full-halo coronal mass ejection (CME) was observed at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time on June 6. The location of the flare and direction of the CME make it a near certainty that the ejected material will reach the Earth within the next 24 hours. Thus, it should produce geomagnetic activity and a resulting aurora that may be visible at mid-latitudes, and could continue for several days.
Geomagnetic storms occur when plasma, a hot ionized gas of charged particles produced by eruptions on the Sun, impacts the Earth's magnetic field causing it to fluctuate wildly. These fluctuations cause currents to flow in conductors on the ground and in space. Solar eruptions can produce billions of tons of plasma traveling at speeds in excess of a million miles an hour.
The USGS provides valuable geomagnetic data to a wide variety of users and organizations that are affected by geomagnetic storms. The agency operates a network of 14 magnetic observatories that continuously monitor the Earth's magnetic field. The data are collected in near-real time via satellite to a downlink center located in Golden, Colo., and provided to numerous customers including NOAA's Space Environment Center and the U.S. Air Force Space Command Center.
Plots of the data from USGS observatories can be seen on-line at: http://geomag.usgs.gov/frames/plots.htm
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