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'Cannibal' Coronal Ejection from Sun Could Cause Beautiful Northern Lights, Disruptions on Earth

'Cannibal' Coronal Ejection from Sun Could Cause Beautiful Northern Lights, Disruptions on Earth

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Aug. 18 2022, Published 4:07 p.m. ET

Geomagnetic Storm watches are in effect this week Wednesday through Friday as the Sun has ejected a massive coronal wave known as a "cannibal" solar ejection.

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The storm's effects on the Earth are expected to peak Thursday and could cause disruptions to a number of systems. It does come with a pretty perk, however.

Cannibal Coronal Ejection Could Bring Disruptions

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Geomagnetic Storms come in levels of 1-5. This week, Wednesday received a watch level 1 out of 5, Thursday received a 3 of 5, and Friday will be under a watch level of 2 out of 5.

A level 1 storm is considered minor and not expected to cause widespread impact. Likewise, a level 2 moderate storm (expected Friday) shouldn't be too disruptive to life on Earth.

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And while a level 3 is considered "strong," in relative terms we won't notice too many effects with a few exceptions.

CBS News reports, "Geomagnetic storms are ranked on a scale of G1 to G5, with G5 being the most extreme. In such an instance, there would be widespread voltage control issues and some power grids could experience 'complete collapse or blackouts,' according to NOAA.

A G3 storm, like the one anticipated, could require that some power voltage systems need to be corrected and it could also trigger some false alarms on power protection devices."

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But the pretty perk that comes with a strong geomagnetic storm? Extra flashy Northern Lights.

Thursday, viewers as far south as Minnesota, South Dakota and Seattle could see the lights and those farther north will be treated to a spectacular show.

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Is the Sun a Danger to Earth's Survival?

Events such as this week's geomagnetic storm really revive the public consciousness about the power of the Sun.

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We tend to take the Sun for granted as a species, using it to grow our plants, crisp our skin and power our grids. But while our Sun is a relatively stable and peaceful star, it's still a massive and somewhat unpredictable heavenly neighbor with unimaginable power.

So should extinction at the hands of the Sun be something that keeps you up at night?

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The answer is (disturbingly) yes and no. Yes, the Sun will eventually wipe out most or all life on Earth - some tardigrades could survive, after all. But it won't be for about 2 to 5 billion years.

In the meantime, it could absolutely send out coronal mass ejections that disrupt life on Earth, even significantly, but with the tenacity common to humanity we should survive most of what it throws at us, if not always gracefully.

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The real danger will come as our Sun ages and begins to expand in a few billion years, engulfing Mercury, Venus, and parking its solar-front property right in our backyard. At that point, our magnetosphere - which protects us from most solar ejections - will erode and life as we know it will cease to survive on the planet's surface. Our once-young and vibrant Sun will become a red giant for about a billion years before it collapses into a white dwarf and fizzles out. But we'll be long gone by then, by choice or by design.

The good news about that is that we have enough time to spread to other planets and, with any luck by then, other solar systems and galaxies.

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