Sun’s storms bring aurora to Tokyo, GPS glitches

08/10/2011
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Aurora Borealis

TOKYO (majirox news) — Aurora Borealis in Japan? Maybe not this week. Indeed, maybe not unless there is a truly exceptional solar event.

Several large explosions on the sun sending streams of electromagnetic waves towards the earth have occurred this week. When these collide with the earth’s magnetic field, they produce the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis. But at least for the time being, it doesn’t look like Tokyo is in store for the Northern Lights.

“At magnetic latitude 29 degrees, Tokyo is too far south,” says the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) aurora site. “Generally, a magnetic latitude of at least 67 degrees north is required before one can see the aurora.”

That doesn’t mean that the magnetic storms emanating from the sun this week can be ignored. This one should be powerful enough to perhaps disrupt communications and throw off GPS positioning satellites and possibly affect the GPS location functions of cell phones throughout many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, including Japan.

“The magnetic storm that is soon to develop will be in the moderate to strong level,” says NOAA. However, this one appears not to be anywhere on the scale of the solar storm that knocked out the entire power grid of Quebec in 1989, leaving millions without power for several hours.

Although this week’s aurora should be visible as far south as some of the northernmost Aleutian Islands, that’s about as far south as it’s going to get.

This week’s storm also will not be punching at the same weight as a true Carrington Event named after the astronomer who recorded it in 1859. The solar storm of 1859 was so powerful that Aurora Borealis were seen as far south as Cuba. Although the only electrical device back then was the telegraph, it had such a strong effect, that telegraph offices worldwide unhooked their telegraphs from the wet cell batteries that powered them. Even so, according to NOAA, many telegraphs continued to send and receive signals, driven by the power of the electromagnetic waves from the sun.

“I don’t think this week’s solar storm will be anywhere near that,” says an NOAA spokesman, but who knows? Maybe some night in the not too distant future, we too will see the glimmering curtain of the Northern Lights shimmer over Tokyo Bay.

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One Response to Sun’s storms bring aurora to Tokyo, GPS glitches

  1. Eric Bloodaxe on 08/10/2011 at 11:03 am

    In the late 1970s, I saw the aurora borealis in Seattle. that would be far enough south to perhaps make it visible from the northern tip of Hokkaido.

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