A powerful solar flare erupted on our sun on Thursday, shooting out a giant cloud of particles toward Earth that should arrive this weekend and create stunning auroras this weekend - just in time for Halloween.
The burst of light, which erupted at 11:35am ET, reached our planet just 8.5 minute after, but the natural light display is on the way and will be visible across the northern US, including Pennsylvania, Illinois and lower regions of Idaho.
The National Weather Service says Americans in the northern part of the nation can expect to see the cosmic display both Saturday and Sunday.
However, Spaceweather.com notes that a 'strong G3-class geomagnetic storm is possible on October 30,' which means voltage corrections may be required and false alarms may occur with some protection devices.
Scroll down for videos
Solar flares are explosions come from sunspots or darker patches on the sun that are formed by complex magnetic fields.
And these flares are measured on a scale, with A-class flares being the smallest and X-class flares being the largest.This flare is classified as an X1-class flare and according to NASA: 'X-class denotes the most intense flares, while the number provides more information about its strength.
'An X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, etc. Flares that are classified X10 or stronger are considered unusually intense.'
Although no major damage was reported during the event, the National Weather Service reported it caused a strong, but brief, radio blackout across the sunlit side of Earth centered on South America, reports.
The X1-class unleashed a wave of particles in the solar wind known as a coronal mass ejection, or CME, which are heading toward Earth and will create the auroras when they hit our planet's magnetic field.
The frequency of strong solar flares has also been increasing as we head towards what astronomers call a 'solar maximum,' which is the highest point of the sun's 11-year cycle and has the greatest amount of activity inside the sun
Twitter user, ObservatoireDeLaval, shared images of a similar even that happened on October 28, 2003.
Reports note that it was 'one of the most powerful solar flares in years erupted from giant sunspot 486' that morning and the aftermath particles lit up parts of Canada – producing red auroras.
Auroras, also called ‘Earth’s airglow,’ are caused by cosmic rays interact with gasses in the upper atmosphere, which blankets the horizon with electric colored lights.
NASA describes the event as a ‘spectacular sign that our planet is electrically connected to the sun.’
The stunning show occurs when energetic particles come speeding out from the sun both in a steady stream called the solar wind and due to giant eruptions known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs).
It can take two to three days for the particles to reach Earth, but when they do, the solar particles and magnetic fields cause the release of particles already trapped near Earth, which in turn trigger reactions in the upper atmosphere in which oxygen and nitrogen molecules release photons of light.
SOLAR STORMS PRESENT A CLEAR DANGER TO ASTRONAUTS AND CAN DAMAGE SATELLITES
Solar storms, or solar activity, can be divided into four main components that can have impacts on Earth:
- Solar flares: A large explosion in the sun's atmosphere. These flares are made of photons that travel out directly from the flare site. Solar flares impact Earth only when they occur on the side of the sun facing Earth.
- Coronal Mass Ejections (CME's): Large clouds of plasma and magnetic field that erupt from the sun. These clouds can erupt in any direction, and then continue on in that direction, plowing through solar wind. These clouds only cause impacts to Earth when they're aimed at Earth.
- High-speed solar wind streams: These come from coronal holes on the sun, which form anywhere on the sun and usually only when they are closer to the solar equator do the winds impact Earth.
- Solar energetic particles: High-energy charged particles thought to be released primarily by shocks formed at the front of coronal mass ejections and solar flares. When a CME cloud plows through solar wind, solar energetic particles can be produced and because they are charged, they follow the magnetic field lines between the Sun and Earth. Only charged particles that follow magnetic field lines that intersect Earth will have an impact.
While these may seem dangerous, astronauts are not in immediate danger of these phenomena because of the relatively low orbit of manned missions.
However, they do have to be concerned about cumulative exposure during space walks.
The damage caused by solar storms
Solar flares can damage satellites and have an enormous financial cost.
The charged particles can also threaten airlines by disturbing Earth's magnetic field.
Very large flares can even create currents within electricity grids and knock out energy supplies.
When Coronal Mass Ejections strike Earth they cause geomagnetic storms and enhanced aurora.
They can disrupt radio waves, GPS coordinates and overload electrical systems.
A large influx of energy could flow into high voltage power grids and permanently damage transformers.
This could shut off businesses and homes around the world.