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Large sunspot could trigger northern lights this week

TORONTO – A large sunspot group has the potential to unleash a powerful solar flare this week — and that might mean the chance of northern lights for us.

Sunspot group 2403 is facing Earth and the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) is calling for a 55 per cent chance a powerful solar flare could be unleashed.

One such flare was already blasted into space on Monday.

A large solar flare erupted from the sun (lower centre) on Aug. 24.

NASA/SOHO

Solar flares are often followed by coronal mass ejections (CME) which can trigger the northern lights. Though the M5-class solar flare — a high mid-level flare — was one of the largest flares we’ve seen in some time, the SWPC said that it may not have been followed by a CME.

CMEs trigger the northern lights, or aurora borealis, when the sun’s plasma particles travel along the solar wind. Once they reach Earth, they interact with our magnetic field, resulting in colourful displays at the north and south poles.

READ MORE: Why do we get the northern lights?

Another way northern lights can be triggered is by coronal holes. This is an area of the sun that is less dense than the surrounding areas. When these open, plasma and particles stream out and once again, those particles travel along and, if we’re in the right place at the right time, produce northern lights.

And that’s just what happened early Sunday morning.

Particles from a coronal hole reached Earth, producing beautiful displays that were seen across Canada and as far south as the United States (usually the northern lights are relegated to northern latitudes).

The northern lights as seen near Lake Diefenbaker, Saskatchewan.

Garry Stone

The sunspot group will be facing us for a few more days. So stay tuned and keep an eye out to the northern skies: you may get a treat.

Follow @NebulousNikki

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