What is a geomagnetic storm?
A geomagnetic storm is a major disturbance of Earth's magnetosphere that occurs when there is a very efficient exchange of energy from the solar wind into the space environment surrounding Earth. noaa.govGeomagnetic Storms | NOAA / NWS Space Weather Prediction Center
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An international team of scientists from Iceland, Norway, and the United States has discovered a boat made of stone in Surtshellir Cave in Iceland, which researchers say could have been used by Vikings to avert Ragnarök - the end of the world in Norse mythology.
According to the findings of the study, which was recently published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, the cave is located near a volcano that erupted almost 1,100 years ago.
The scientists write that after the lava cooled, Vikings entered the cave and constructed a boat, where they conducted rituals. Bones of sheep, goats, horses, and pigs were burned inside the boat as a way to ward off the apocalypse. Historical records show that Vikings thought of the cave as Surtr, a mythological giant who would unleash the end of humanity.
Another theory as to why Vikings conducted sacrifices and placed artefacts inside the boat is that they tried to strengthen Freyr, the god of peace and fertility, who fought against Surtr.
Researchers claim that even after Iceland converted to Christianity, people continued to believe in Ragnarök. To corroborate their hypothesis, they cite that the last objects placed in the boat were a set of scale weights, with one in the form of a Christian cross. The Surtshellir Cave continues to be associated with the apocalypse. According to one tradition, it is considered "the place where Satan would emerge on Judgment Day", the scientists wrote.
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26 April, 2021 - 03:10pm
Saturday, April 24th 2021, 6:34 am - An immense cloud of solar plasma is expected to sweep past Earth this weekend, which may spark displays of the Northern Lights across much of Canada.
Stargazers across the country may have a chance to see the Aurora Borealis this weekend, following an immense eruption from the surface of the Sun.
Just after midnight, Eastern Daylight Time, on April 22, 2021, an active region on the Sun emitted a weak, C3-class solar flare. Flares like this are relatively common during the Sun's more active periods. With the start of a new solar cycle in December of 2019, we will see more and more of these in the years ahead.
Flares of this magnitude tend to have minimal impact on Earth (M-class and X-class are the ones to watch out for). However, in the hours after the flare, the NASA-ESA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) captured very faint indications that this event had resulted in a coronal mass ejection.
During a solar flare, loops of magnetized solar plasma untangle and reorganize themselves. This process can cause some of the plasma contained along these loops to be launched out into space by the flare's energy. These clouds of plasma are called coronal mass ejections, or CMEs.
After analyzing the images of this CME, forecasters with NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center determined that at least part of this cloud was on a trajectory towards Earth. As a result, they have issued a G2 geomagnetic storm watch for Sunday, April 25.
"The forecast now calls for likely geomagnetic storm conditions, with the potential to reach G2 (Moderate) storm levels, therefore, a G2 geomagnetic storm watch has been issued for 25 April," they wrote on Friday. "While forecast confidence in an Earth-directed component is fair, timing and intensity confidence is lower. Continue to follow our webpage for the latest information."
Solar flares, coronal mass ejections, and geomagnetic storms are different parts of what we call space weather.
Solar flares are explosions of energy from the surface of the Sun. Look at a sunspot with the right camera filter (as shown in the images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory above), and you will see they are surrounded by bright 'coronal loops'. These loops appear this bright because they have tons and tons of magnetized solar matter swirling around them. The more chaotic and jumbled up these loops are, the more likely they are to suddenly and violently unravel and form new, simpler connections. When this happens, a significant amount of energy can be released, and this is what we call a solar flare. While most flares are weak, such as the A, B and C-class, we begin to take notice when we see M-class and especially the incredibly powerful X-class flares.
A geomagnetic storm occurs when Earth's geomagnetic field — which is generated by the molten metal in the planet's core — experience some kind of disturbance. This usually happens due to changes in the constant flow of particles streaming away from the Sun, which we call the solar wind. Occasionally (and more frequently towards the 'peak' of a solar cycle), we see these disturbances due to coronal mass ejections sweeping past us. The disruption causes Earth's magnetic field to fluctuate, and some of the solar particles passing by us become caught in the field and are drawn down into Earth's atmosphere.
Since these particles carry a significant amount of energy with them, when they collide with atoms and molecules of oxygen and nitrogen in our atmosphere, they transfer some of that energy in the process. The atoms and molecules then dump that energy, emitting it as flashes of coloured light. These flashes are what we see during displays of the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis, aka the Northern and Southern Lights.
Aurora displays are harmless wonders to behold, occurring between 100-400 km above our heads. Still, space weather does have its dangers.
Intense solar flares bombard the planet's upper atmosphere with x-rays, resulting in prolonged radio blackouts. Astronauts on board the International Space Station take shelter in shielded spacecraft until such a flare subsides. Also, orbiting satellites and spacecraft can suffer electrical problems during geomagnetic storms. Exceptionally strong geomagnetic storms can even cause electrical blackouts on the ground.
No danger is expected from this weekend's space weather events. The solar flare from April 22 was relatively weak, and the resulting coronal mass ejection is fairly diffuse. This could produce some impressive auroral displays, however. If the timing works out as expected, auroras are more likely on Sunday night. If this CME arrives earlier than expected, though, Saturday night would be the time to watch.
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