Birds flying north for the spring and humans relying on global positioning satellites to navigate could get a little lost this weekend.
Three coronal holes spread across the sun are pointing at the Earth. As a result, a minor geomagnetic storm alert has been issued for Saturday by the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado, and the Space Weather Operations Centre of the U.K. Met Office in Exeter.
“Early on Day 3 (2nd April), a high-speed stream from coronal hole 67 is expected to reach Earth,” said the Met Office.
Forecasters in the U.S. and U.K. predict this could confuse migrating birds and other animals, cause minor problems with satellites and make an aurora visible as far south as Maine and Michigan.
The storms could rise to G2 level on a five-step scale, which would mean the Northern Lights might be seen in New York and some electrical transformers could be damaged.
Viewed through X-ray telescopes, coronal holes can appear to be vast, dark, blank spaces in sun’s swirling atmosphere. They are the places where the sun’s magnetic lines don’t return to the surface.
How does that work?
Touch your fingertips together and they form an arc — this is what the magnetic lines do on the sun. Now spread your fingers outward so they aren’t touching and are pointing away from you. This is what happens with the magnetic lines on the sun when a coronal hole opens.
The solar wind, a stream of charged particles flowing away from the sun, bursts out with greater velocity from the coronal holes. When the holes point at the Earth, the planet is caught in even stronger winds and the chances of geomagnetic storms increase.
So, if you run into a lost bird Saturday, help the little fellow on his way. That is, if you know where you are yourself.