Flare-well, 2015 – solar storm to light up skies on New Year's Eve

Northern Lights coming down as far as California after G3 eruption

A major eruption from the surface of the Sun could give a spectacular display of the aurora borealis in time for New Year's festivities.

At 1245 UTC (0445 PT) on 28 December our star belched out a coronal mass ejection from the surface in our direction. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that a G3-class solar storm will hit us on 30 and 31 December, and the delightful lighting effects this will cause might be seen as far south as California.

"The geomagnetic storming watch for 30 December has been upgraded to a G3 (Strong), with a G1 (Minor) storming watch still in effect for 31 December," reads the NOAA advisory.

There's no need for panic – this won't be anywhere near as strong as the 1859 Carrington event, when a massive solar storm fried our then-primitive electronics. An equivalent strike today could cripple large parts of our energy infrastructure and damage satellites, which is why we've put observatories into space to provide us with warnings.

The solar storm severity rating runs from 1 to 5, and a class 3 will only temporarily disrupt some radio traffic and possibly GPS signals. Power systems may also see voltages peaking, but on the plus side (thanks to the orbital position of the planet) we will get a lovely light show.

As the charged particles of the eruption hit our magnetosphere they'll cause a spectacular display of ionization. These kinds of displays have both awed and excited humanity since our origins. The waves of light can be red, yellow, green, and extend all the way to ultraviolet and infrared.

To get the best view you'll need to be as far north as possible and have clear skies. Air travelers catching the red eye down the west coast of the US should get a bumper view. ®

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