If you’re eager to see the Northern Lights, this week could be the time to get your binoculars at the ready. A large hole in the sun’s atmosphere is turning towards Earth, and could lead to a huge geomagnetic storm – the Solar phenomenon that creates the Northern Lights.However, the storms – predicted to peak on April 23 and April 24 – could also cause blackout chaos by interferring with power grids and satellites.
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Nasa’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured an image of a huge hole this morning.Coronal holes are vast regions where the sun’s magnetic field opens up and allows solar winds to escape. Speaking to MailOnline, Dr Melanie Windridge, author of ‘Aurora: In Search of the Northern Lights’, said: ‘Coronal holes are regions on the sun where magnetic field lines open straight out into the solar system, so solar wind flow is unrestricted and can travel fast.
‘The sun’s magnetic field changes over an 11 year period, changing from a bar-magnet-type pattern with two poles to being very twisted up and eventually flipping over, so the north magnetic pole becomes south and vice versa.
‘As the field is twisting and changing, coronal holes can form.’
This hole is expected to send solar winds our way on April 23 and April 24, and NOAA forecasters predict that there is a 75 per cent chance of a magnetic storm.
This isn’t the first time that we have seen this coronal hole.
Last month, the hole lashed Earth’s magnetic field with a fast-moving stream that led to vivid auroras around both of Earth’s poles.The coronal hole is potent because it is spewing solar wind threaded with ‘negative polarity’ magnetic fields.Such fields are especially good at connecting to Earth’s magnetosphere and energising geomagnetic storms.
While these storms create stunning solar auroras, they could also cause havoc for the electrical power grid.
The NOAA said: ‘The principal users affected by geomagnetic storms are the electrical power grid, spacecraft operations, users of radio signals that reflect off of or pass through the ionosphere, and observers of the aurora.’The geomagnetic storm isn’t the only celestial event occurring this week. Tonight, skywatchers in the US will be treated to a rare and spectacular celestial show — the first total solar eclipse visible from the US in nearly four decades. The ‘Great American Total Solar Eclipse’ will darken skies all the way from Oregon to South Carolina, along a stretch of land about 70 miles (113 kilometres) wide.
Speaking to Space.com, Jay Pasachoff, an astronomer at Williams College in Massachusetts, said: ‘It’s a tremendous opportunity. It’s a chance to see the universe change around you.’ The solar eclipse will first appear at 10:17am in Oregon, and will end at 2.46pm in South Carolina.Views of the solar wind from NASA’s STEREO spacecraft (left) and after computer processing (right). Scientists used an algorithm to dim the appearance of bright stars and dust in images of the faint solar windThe sun and its atmosphere are made of plasma – a mix of positively and negatively charged particles which have separated at extremely high temperatures, that both carries and travels along magnetic field lines.Material from the corona streams out into space, filling the solar system with the solar wind. But scientists found that as the plasma travels further away from the sun, things change. The sun begins to lose magnetic control, forming the boundary that defines the outer corona – the very edge of the sun.
The breakup of the rays is similar to the way water shoots out from a squirt gun.First, the water is a smooth and unified stream, but it eventually breaks up into droplets, then smaller drops and eventually a fine, misty spray. The images in a Nasa study capture the plasma at the same stage where a stream of water gradually disintegrates into droplets.If charged particles from solar winds hit Earth’s magnectic field, this can cause problems for satellite and communication equipment.