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'Massive' solar flare expected to light up Alberta sky Friday

Northern lights over southern Alberta in early November. (Photo: Matt Melnyk) Northern lights over southern Alberta in early November. (Photo: Matt Melnyk)
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A “Cannibal CME” is approaching the earth, and while it sounds sinister, it actually is a good sign that a dazzling aurora light show could kick off December.

CME is short for Corona Mass Ejection and NASA describes them as “clouds of electrified, magnetic gas weighing billions of tons.”

These CME’s are ejected from the sun and launched into space at rapid speeds ranging from 20 to 2,000 kilometers per second.

“[Tuesday] there was a massive solar flare and it launched directly towards us at a faster speed and it’s going to swallow up the [solar flares] in front of it,” explained Matt Melnyk, an avid aurora chaser and pilot in Calgary.  “So it’s eating the other ones in front of it and making itself stronger and powerful.”

It’s difficult to determine exactly when this Cannibal CME will make contact with the Earth’s atmosphere, but it’s anticipated it could happen as early as Thursday evening, with the big show on Friday night.

It’s difficult to determine exactly when this Cannibal CME will make contact with the Earth’s atmosphere, but it’s anticipated the aurora will be at its most intense Thursday evening heading into Friday morning. 

The aurora should also be visible on Friday night into Saturday as well.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration uses a KP-Index (KPI) to monitor the level of disturbance (geomagnetic activity) these solar flares have on the Earth’s magnetic field.

The KPI ranges from zero (quiet) to nine (intense storm).

The higher the KPI typically results in a longer latitude of visibility in the northern hemisphere, though sometimes the relationship doesn’t always hold up.

The KPI for this upcoming CME is expected to be a seven (strong storm). 

That means there is a high likeliness this aurora will be bright, energetic and colourful and could extend down into the United States.

SOLAR MAXIMUM

“Here in Calgary, you’ll be able to view the auroras directly overhead and south which is not normal our location at all,” said Melnyk.  “Which means people in Colorado could see it, possibly even California.”

Right now the forecast over Calgary is showing mostly cloudy conditions for Thursday night, but there are encouraging signs of clearing conditions as we get into Friday and Saturday.

Even if Calgarians miss out on this latest aurora event, Melnyk says we are just getting started when it comes to these kinds of sightings in the sky as this cycle doesn’t hit its solar maximum until 2025.

“We are climbing our way towards solar maximum so these kinds of events are going to become more frequent, more often and we are going to have many, many opportunities to witness these aurora.”

If you capture any shots of this upcoming aurora feel free to send them our way at calgaryweatherpics@bellmedia.ca.

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