Strong solar flare could bring northern lights to Washington, Oregon coast

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Strong solar flare could bring northern lights to Washington, Oregon coast

Posted on 10/28/21 at 6:36 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection Staff

(Portland, Ore.) – Scientists at the US Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) said the strongest solar flare in recent years had come out of the sun early Thursday, classified as a Class X1 flare – the most powerful of all. The result could be spectacular northern lights sightings along the upper reaches of the Washington coast and possibly even as far as the Oregon coast on Friday and Saturday. (Above: Thursday’s eruption captured by NASA)

With clear skies expected over most of the Oregon coast and across the entire Washington coast on these nights, a projection of the Northern Lights could be memorable. However, the southern Oregon coast will remain cloudy and cloudy on these nights, from about Reedsport south to Brookings.

The eruption, which also reportedly created a coronal mass ejection (CME), was enough to disrupt communications in the southern hemisphere earlier today. It peaked around 7:30 a.m. West Coast Time.

However, predicting an aurora is still too early, according to Jim Todd, OMSI Portland astronomer.

“At this time, forecasts are not yet available for possible Aurora activity,” Todd told Oregon Coast Beach Connection. “When will the CME itself arrive? Assuming it’s headed for Earth, probably October 30 or 31. New data from SOHO coronographs will allow for a more accurate forecast, so stay tuned. “

The eruption caused a major radio blackout early Thursday in South America, which was sunny at the time and faced the best and worst impacts of the sun. It didn’t last long, according to NASA.

SpaceWeather.com said if the Northern Lights hit here and Earth gets in the path of the electromagnetic storm, it could seriously disrupt satellite communications for some time.


Graph showing radio interference in South America earlier today (courtesy NASA)

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Solar flares are essentially massive eruptions of the sun’s surface, where radiation sends charged particles into space. If Earth is in this path, the result may be many Northern Lights at latitudes well below the Arctic Circle. Flares are classified in a letter system. Classes X are the strongest, classes M are less and relatively to the middle, and class C storms are the weakest.


Aurora Borealis in the Coast Range

“An X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, etc.” NASA said. “Flares rated X10 or higher are considered unusually intense.”

This particular eruption originated from a sunspot designated AR2887, which faces the Earth in general. It allegedly set off two more medium-range flares the same day before the big one.

Washington state is generally much better positioned for viewing the Northern Lights during such events, and that certainly includes the coastline.

Pay attention to the latest regional weather forecasts for your area to find updates on the Northern Lights forecast, or SpaceWeather.gov. If you intend to photograph the phenomenon, keep in mind that you may not be able to see it with the naked eye. Often times you will need a camera with a tripod and long exposure times, then you will need to check the camera afterwards for any “light curtain” that may be there.

The photos above and below were taken by the Oregon Coast Beach Connection in the Coast Range and these views were not visible except through the camera.

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