Solar Storm From Holes in Sun's Corona Headed Straight for Earth

On July 19, parts of North America got the chance to see the northern lights in lower latitudes than usual thanks to a solar storm and now another solar storm is due to hit Earth on July 20.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), solar winds caused by two recently observed holes in the Sun's corona will arrive between July 20-22, resulting in a G1 geomagnetic storm.

A G1 geomagnetic storm is caused by solar winds hitting the Earth's magnetic field and may result in power grid fluctuations, interruptions to satellite operations and the storm could also cause changes to the behavior of migratory animals.

It is the weakest form of solar storm on the scale, which ranges between G1 and G5. However, according to a tweet from space weather researcher Dr. Tamitha Skov, it might end up being more powerful.

"The magnetic orientation of this Earth-directed #solarstorm is going to be tough to predict. G2-level (possibly G3) conditions may occur if the magnetic field of this storm is oriented southward!" she tweeted.

Newsweek has reached out to NOAA for comment.

Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and other solar activity occur in active areas of the sun where the magnetic fields are particularly strong. CMEs, which are usually harmless, can consist of billions of tons of material from the sun's atmosphere and carry an embedded magnetic field. They are released from the sun when twisted magnetic field lines suddenly reconfigure themselves.

A CME was observed on July 15, and some of the material from that CME caused the aurora displays on July 19.

solar flare
A geomagnetic solar storm is forecasted for July 20 to July 22 due to slow moving solar winds. Stock image of an illustration of a solar flare. iStock / Getty Images Plus

There is at least one beautiful result of solar storms: G1 storms also result in aurora displays across the night sky.

The displays are caused when electrons from solar winds hit the Earth's magnetosphere, which protects Earth from charged particles from space.

The electrons in the solar winds accelerate towards the poles, where the field is weaker, and collide with oxygen and nitrogen atoms and molecules in Earth's upper atmosphere, around 50 to 300 miles above the Earth, at high speeds. As they collide, the electrons pass their energy to the atmospheric atoms, exciting them to a higher energy state.

As the atoms drop back down to lower energy, they release their excess energy in the form of the blue and green lights seen in the skies.

However, during stronger geomagnetic storms, the electrons hit the atmosphere further inwards from the poles, meaning that in events like the forecasted storm, the northern lights may be seen at lower latitudes than normal.

Astrophotographer Sebastian Voltmer tweeted that this storm could cause strong aurora shows and be seen further south than usual.

The sun's activity follows 11-year cycles, with its activity levels cycling between decreasing and increasing towards each solar peak. The last solar minimum, defined as a period when the sun was least active, was in December 2019, meaning that the sun is expected to reach peak activity levels sometime in 2025.