Who punched a hole in the sun?: Our Resident Space Weather Forecaster, @mcoook_, Explains

What’s up with the hole in the Sun? No, it isn’t going to swallow Earth (yet) and it isn’t uncommon.

This is what is known as a coronal hole and they’re quite common, especially as we head towards Solar Minimum. Our Sun has an 11 year cycle known as the Solar Cycle, with a Solar Maximum (most active) and a Solar Minimum (quiet period). That bright thing in the sky that is 93 million miles away is home to space weather phenomena.

As we approach solar minimum, coronal holes are the main driver of space weather (Earth-Sun interaction.) These areas are open magnetic fields that allow enhanced solar wind to escape. This wind then reaches Earth in 3-5 days and is capable of producing the Aurora if strong enough.

The next few nights, March 14th-15th, northern tier U.S. states (Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota etc.) and Canada have a good chance of seeing the northern lights. Tip: you need to be far away from city lights with clear, dark skies and the best viewing time is usually around midnight.

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A common question: Should I be worried about solar flares, geomagnetic storms and space weather in general? No but it does have the capability of affecting our day to day activities.

Solar storms have many impacts that we don’t commonly hear about like affecting radio communication, GPS accuracy and could even be a threat to our power grid during very strong events. Back in March of 1989 a powerful geomagnetic storm impacted Earth and left parts of Quebec without power for up to 9 hours and some satellite operators even lost control of their satellites for a few hours.

Imagine in 2018 a major city like New York or LA without power? Space Weather by no means should scare you or make you panic but it is very crucial to monitor and we are lucky to have the U.S. government and Military doing just that. A great resource to learn more about space weather and it’s impacts is swpc.noaa.gov.

-Mike Cook

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