The Earth is being battered by a huge solar storm, which could disrupt the power grid and GPS as well as letting people see beautiful auroras.
A potent blast of magnetic plasma shot out of the sun on Sunday, travelling faster than usual, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It brought with it the biggest solar storm at least since March, and perhaps since September 2005.
The solar weather brought with it aurora — spectacular lights that could be seen over the US overnight. Their effects were spotted and shared by Scott Kelly, an American astronaut who is currently on the International Space Station.
Aurora are caused by the way that the storm interacts with the top levels of our atmosphere. The red colour tends to come only during the most intense solar activity, and happens at the highest part of the atmosphere.
Solar storms can disrupt communications, navigations systems, the power grid and other systems that rely on radio communications, but there were no reports of damage, according to NOAA space weather physicist Doug Biesecker. It was likely that important systems like the electrical grid saw current fluctuations, but they have been built to be able to handle such disruption.
The storm arrived on Monday afternoon and could last up to a day or even longer.
The most surprising facts about the sun
The most surprising facts about the sun
1/8 An Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (EIT) image of a huge, handle-shaped prominence
The sun makes up 99.8 per cent of the mass of the entire solar system. The sun’s core, although it only makes up around 2 percent of the sun's volume, holds nearly half of its mass
NASA/European Space Agency
2/8 The quiet corona and upper transition region of the Sun.
The sun is travelling at 220 kilometres per second. It takes the 225-250 million years to complete an orbit of the centre of the Milky Way
3/8 Bright, glowing arcs of gas flow around sunspots
The sun’s magnetic fields generate solar wind - streams of charged particles, which travel through the solar system at 450 kilometres per second. The winds cause radio interference, the northern lights and tails on comets, as well as alter the trajectory of space crafts
Goddard Space Flight Center
4/8 A huge X-class solar flare burst from a large, active sunspot
As the sun has no solid body - it is made up of 92.1 percent hydrogen and 7.8 percent helium - different parts of the sun rotate at different rates. At the equator, the sun spins once about every 25 days, but at its poles the sun rotates once on its axis every 36 Earth days
5/8 Hot coronal loops which span 30 or more times the diameter of planet Earth extend above the visible surface of the Sun
One day, the sun will be about the size of Earth. After its red giant phase - when the sun would have expanded, consuming Mercury, Venus and Earth - the sun will collapse, retaining its enormous mass, but shrinking to the approximate volume of our planet to become a white dwarf. It is currently categorised as a yellow dwarf and at 4.5 billion years old is currently middle aged
6/8 A full-disk multiwavelength extreme ultraviolet image of the sun. False colors trace different gas temperatures
A complex internal mechanism about which little is known causes the reverse in polarity
7/8 The size of the Earth in comparison to the sun
With a circumference of 2,715,395.6 miles, one million Earths could fit inside the sun. | 8. The temperature at the sun's core is about 15 million °C while its surface temperature is 5500 °C
8/8 Combined ultra violet images of different temperatures of the sun
Sunspots - visible dark patches that appear on the sun’s surface - are temporary phenomena whereby intense magnetic activity form areas of reduced surface temperature. | 10. Solar flares shoot out from the sun’s surface during when magnetic energy is released by the during magnetic storms. They are the most violent eruptions in the solar system
Solar storms and wind are caused when the sun shoots out a big burst of gas and magnetic fields, which then travel through the solar system and hit Earth. They can cause huge disruption when they hit the Earth, but their force and effects vary.