The sun has suddenly become much more active, bursting with sunspots and sending plumes of hot plasma out into space.
In the last week alone, sunspot numbers have increased by 10 times, dotting the sun’s surface with black pockmarks spewing out several coronal mass ejections every day.
One of these coronal mass ejections (CMEs) may be due to hit the Earth in the coming days, a NASA model has shown, with one possibly due to collide with our magnetic field and atmosphere late on November 25. This will be confirmed after scientists fully analyze the trajectories of the storms.
Coronal mass ejections are huge clouds of solar plasma that are spat out of the sun in regions of high magnetic activity, which can include sunspots. The sun may also send out solar flares, which are bright bursts of electromagnetic energy.
“Solar flares and CME are both caused by the sun through its magnetic field being twisted and stressed through motions in the sun,” Daniel Brown, an associate professor in astronomy and science communication at Nottingham Trent University in the U.K., told Newsweek. “However, a solar flare is the immense release of light triggered by the snapping and rearranging of the magnetic fields on the sun. That will go hand in hand typically with the release of a CME. But it will take a day or more for the particles to arrive while the light and radiation reaches us in just over 8 minutes. So, a good comparison is that a flare is the flash of a muzzle while the CME is actually the cannonball traveling and possibly hitting us.”
When the particles of a CME hit the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere, it can trigger a geomagnetic storm.
“A geomagnetic storm occurs when the Earth’s magnetic field is seriously disrupted by eruptions from the sun,” Huw Morgan, head of the Solar Physics group at Aberystwyth University in the U.K., told Newsweek. “When a large plasma storm erupts from the sun, and that storm carries a magnetic field which is oriented in an opposite direction to Earth’s magnetic field, we have a ‘perfect storm,’ and a larger geomagnetic storm.”
Geomagnetic storms vary in strength depending on the power of the CME that caused it, being measured on a scale between G1 (minor) to G5 (extreme), according to NOAA. The most powerful of the storms are the least common: while there may be 1700 G1 storms per 11-year solar cycle, we may only see 100 G4 storms and 4 G5 storms during that same period.
These geomagnetic storms can cause spectacular displays of aurora much further towards the equator than normal, with more powerful storms causing the northern lights to creep further and further south.
This occurs because charged particles in the Earth’s atmosphere are influenced and disturbed by the solar plasma hitting us, subsequently reacting with gases like nitrogen and oxygen in the air and causing them to glow.
“Under quiet conditions, charged particles (both from the solar wind and the ionosphere) can become trapped in the magnetosphere, happily bouncing from hemisphere-to-hemisphere, pole-to-pole. Under these circumstances, some of these charged particles will collide with upper atmospheric particles, causing auroras in the polar regions,” Brett Carter, an associate professor in space science at RMIT University in Australia, told Newsweek.
However, when a CME hits and causes a geomagnetic storm, these particles are forced deeper into the atmosphere, causing them to react with more gases and cause the aurora to be brighter and visible further.
Other than pretty lights in the sky, geomagnetic storms can also lead to some impacts on infrastructure, including fluctuations and outages in the power grid and radio blackouts.
“The affected infrastructure that is of most importance is large-scale power grids, without which modern society would not be able to function. Other than that, pipelines, High Frequency (HF) radio/radar and satellites in orbit are significantly affected,” Carter said. “Pipelines are known to also carry geomagnetically induced currents, which accelerates their corrosion. Satellites can experience increased surface charging due to the plasma environment in orbit, and this can affect the onboard electronics and operation of the satellite.
“Further, due to the huge amount of energy being dumped in the Earth’s atmosphere during these big storms, the atmosphere actually swells, and this causes more satellite drag in low-Earth orbit (up to about 1,000 km altitude, where the majority of our satellites are). Increased satellite drag further complicates efforts to keep track of everything in orbit, and making sure that collisions don’t take place. The really minor geomagnetic storm in February 2022 that resulted in the loss of the majority of a Starlink deployment is a perfect example of how varying satellite drag can complicate space operations.”
Beaver Moon, on the Horizon. 11/27/2023 Enjoy.
The “Beaver Moon” is coming tonight, here’s what you should know.
The Beaver Moon, a term steeped in history and folklore, has captivated the imagination of various cultures for centuries. The next full moon, rising on November 27, 2023, carries with it a rich tapestry of stories, scientific phenomena, and cultural significance.
Significance of the Beaver Moon
The term “Beaver Moon” is primarily attributed to the Native American groups of North America, specifically those in the northeastern United States. These groups, deeply attuned to the natural world, named the full moons throughout the year to keep track of the seasons and significant natural events.
November was the time when beavers, preparing for winter, would become particularly active. They would fortify their lodges and store food, crucial for survival during the harsh winter months.
For the Native Americans and early colonial settlers, this was also the time for trapping beavers. The beavers’ fur, thick and waterproof, was highly valued for making warm clothing and hats, essential for surviving the cold winter.
Astronomical aspects of the Beaver Moon
The next full moon, like all full moons, occurs when the Earth is positioned directly between the sun and the moon. This alignment allows the sun’s rays to fully illuminate the moon’s surface that faces Earth.
The exact date and time of the full Beaver Moon can vary annually due to the lunar cycle’s slight misalignment with the Gregorian calendar. In 2023, it will occur on November 27. The Beaver Moon is visible worldwide, with its exact appearance and timing differing slightly depending on geographical location.
Cultural and spiritual perspectives
In addition to Native American traditions, many other cultures have their own interpretations and names for the November full moon. For instance, in Europe, the next full moon was often called the Frost Moon, signaling the onset of frost and colder temperatures.
In various spiritual and astrological beliefs, the Beaver Moon holds significant meaning. It is often seen as a time of preparation and transition, reflecting the beavers’ behavior in the natural world. Some believe it is a period to focus on securing resources and setting intentions for the coming winter months.
From a scientific viewpoint, the Beaver Moon presents an opportunity for lunar observation and research. Scientists study the moon’s surface, its impact on Earth’s tides, and other lunar phenomena during full moon phases.
Despite its allure, the Beaver Moon is sometimes subject to myths, such as its influence on human behavior. Scientifically, no conclusive evidence supports these claims, but they remain a part of popular culture.
Observing the Beaver Moon
For enthusiasts looking to observe or photograph the Beaver Moon, clear skies and a high vantage point are ideal. Telescopes or binoculars can enhance the viewing experience, revealing the moon’s craters and seas in greater detail.
Many communities and astronomical societies organize events around the full moon, including the Beaver Moon. These gatherings often include moon viewings, cultural education, and sometimes spiritual or meditative practices.
In summary, the Beaver Moon is a bridge connecting us to the natural world and our ancestors who first named it. This next full moon of 2023 is a reminder of the rhythms of nature and the passage of time. It brings with it an opportunity to observe, reflect, and perhaps partake in the age-old traditions that celebrate the mysteries of the moon and the night sky.
Be patient Florida, this too, shall pass!