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Missed the weekend’s aurora? Expect a second chance some time in 2024

Source: The New Daily

If you missed the weekend’s aurora – and were reduced to looking at other people’s photos on social media – then don’t worry, there will be more lighting up the sky throughout 2024.

Alan Duffy, an astronomer from Swinburne University, said people will be able to witness other similar celestial events throughout 2024 as it is expected to be a good year for such phenomena, although it is difficult to predict exactly when.

“Right now, as the main field is about to flip, there are a maximum number of sunspots and hence a maximum number of storms and this is the year where we should see the most number of storms,” Duffy said.

“You never know exactly when there will be an eruption, but once one occurs, we can track it and see as it develops, essentially like any weather system moving towards us.”

He said people watching the aurora over the weekend witnessed “a huge amount of material erupting from the sun and crashing into the Earth’s protective magnetic field”.

“That shield acts to concentrate these high-energy particles from the sun towards the poles and there they dump their energy and heat up the air and it begins to glow like a neon light,” he said.

“The colours you’re seeing – the reds and the greens – that is the oxygen in the air glowing and if you were very lucky and saw blues, that’s the nitrogen in our air.”

The aurora from the Dandenong Ranges, Victoria. Photo: Douglas Fuller-Griffiths

Keeping track

The geomagnetic storm was witnessed across Australia, most prominently in the southern states such as Tasmania and Victoria, but also as far north as Mackay in Queensland.

Duffy said the Bureau of Meteorology’s Space Weather app will alert people when there is a high chance of another event. But it is unlikely – but not impossible – that further storms in 2024 will be as visible to people in the northern states of Australia.

“While unpredictable, these storms, once they erupt, we can certainly track their progress and give increasingly confident statements about the chances of the Aurora,” he said.

“The one thing I can say is that there definitely will be more, I just can’t tell you exactly when.”

Aurora Australis explainer

Source: Bureau of Meteorology

Auroras are predominately witnessed in the far north and south of the globe, near the Arctic and Antarctica, with many tourists visiting nearby countries for tourism.

Duffy said people’s ability to view future auroras can be affected by the strength of the storm, light pollution and the time spent acclimatising to the darkness.

“It can take 15 to 20 minutes for your eyes to become dark adapted so you can actually see these really quite faint colours, but your phone will pick it out,” he said.

“It’s not just the aurora. Of course, there are many constellations that we just can no longer see from the city simply because of light pollution.”

Impact

The weekend’s geomagnetic storm was ranked as a G5, the highest level, by the Bureau of Meteorology.

The BoM said a storm of such scale and strength had not occurred since October 2003.

Duffy said it was fortunate that people witnessed the aurora without any negative effects.

“You can get blackouts, electrical grid failures, communications and GPS can all be affected through these kinds of storms and we can lose satellites,” he said.

“For some very lucky reason, we saw almost none of that, despite the incredible strength of the storm.”

Some satellite networks – including Elon Musk’s Starlink – experienced pressure during the storm, and some areas of the US experienced minor “power grid irregularities, loss of high-frequency communications and some GPS disruptions”.

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