BALTIMORE (WJZ)–This week, earth was hit harder than expected by a massive blast from the sun.
As Alex DeMetrick reports, it caught scientists by surprise and brought the northern lights south.
Maryland native Terry Virts has been busy aboard the International Space Station.
“I looked out the window and saw the most amazing sunrise looking down on creation. It was awesome,” said Terry Virts.
And Virts found time to tweet his view of the northern lights during the past few nights. A phenomenon that began with a solar eruption.
“These are these big blobs of material called coronal mass ejections, there’s billions of tons of material that fly away,” said Dr. Alex Young, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
On Sunday, scientists saw two massive explosions. What they didn’t see coming is what happened when the two solar storms linked up on their way to earth.
“They have a geomagnetic storm scale, G-1 to G-5, and this was a G-4. So very, very strong. and part of it was this double whammy of the two storms kind of merging and hitting the earth much faster than we thought,” said Jim O’Leary, Maryland Science Center.
When the sun’s highly charged particles hit the earth’s magnetic field, it stretches it until it snaps, sending particles into the atmosphere. Drawn to north and south poles, those particles become the glowing ribbons of the northern lights. Because so much power was released, the lights pushed further south.
“So there were sightings in Maine, Minnesota, the northern Midwest states,” O’Leary said.
But the energy that triggers the northern lights also packs a threat. Satellites can be damaged and earth’s electric power grids can be knocked out.
But this week, no significant damage was reported.