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Solar storm impacting Earth behind auroras

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The South African National Space Agency (Sansa) Space Weather Centre issued several G4 warnings and, for the first time since 2003, one G5 warning was issued.

Auroras are caused by energetic particles from the sun interacting with the gasses in the upper atmosphere. Picture: Supplied

A HISTORIC solar storm impacted Earth this weekend, the South African National Space Agency (Sansa) Space Weather Centre said.

Sansa issued several G4 warnings and, for the first time since 2003, one G5 warning was issued.

The Geomagnetic Storm Scale indicates the severity of geomagnetic storms. It is denoted by a G, followed by a number from 1 to 5, with 1 being a minor event and 5 being an extreme event.

According to Sansa, a geomagnetic storm occurs when charged particles from the sun, caused by a coronal mass ejection (CME), interact with the Earth’s magnetic field.

The impact of such a storm, Sansa said, is mostly on technological systems; however, it is also the origin of the Northern and Southern Lights. There were several reports of Aurora Australis, also known as the Southern Lights, being visible over the southern tip of Africa. Sightings were reported from Gansbaai in the Western Cape and Namibia, among others.

Auroras are caused by the energetic particles from the sun as they interact with the gases in the upper atmosphere, Sansa stated.

Auroras are caused by energetic particles from the sun interacting with the gasses in the upper atmosphere. Picture: Supplied

Jon Ward, acting executive director at Sansa Space Science in Hermanus, noted that this is the largest geomagnetic storm that has been observed in a very long time.

“Although the likelihood of such a storm occurring is quite low, the severity of the impacts on technological systems can be very high. The energy and transport sectors are particularly vulnerable at the moment,” Ward said.

“Space weather is a global phenomenon, the impacts are regional and vary greatly, depending on the time of arrival of the storm and whether it is day or night in the region.”

Sansa’s Space Weather Centre was built to focus on these impacts in the African region.

This storm highlights the importance for businesses using technologies susceptible to the adverse effects of space weather to include space weather in their risk planning.

Ward said: “We are so much more susceptible to disruptions due to solar events and space weather than 20 years ago. Awareness of space weather is critical in planning to protect against potential losses.”

Sansa launched its 24/7 operational Space Weather Centre in Hermanus in November 2022. This state-of-the-art facility operates around the clock to monitor and mitigate the risk of space weather on Africa. Sansa has been actively studying and forecasting space weather since 2009 and is the only accredited space weather centre in Africa.

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