Sun storm may supercharge auroras for Valentine's Day

claw-shaped solar flare bursting from the sun
The sun unleashes a powerful flare on Feb. 7, 2023. (Image credit: NASA/SDO/

A big solar outburst over the weekend might produce bright auroras here on Earth tonight (Feb. 14).

The sun blasted a powerful X-class flare into space on Saturday (Feb. 11), an outburst accompanied by an eruption of solar plasma known as a coronal mass ejection (CME). Some of the CME particles could hit Earth's upper atmosphere late on Valentine's Day (Tuesday, Feb. 14) and create shining auroras, experts said.

"Minor G1-class geomagnetic storms are possible on Feb. 14 and 15 when one or more CMEs could deliver glancing blows to Earth's magnetic field," wrote of the event.

More activity might be coming from "a number of sunspot groups [that] are present on the visible solar disk," added the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in a Monday (Feb. 13) update. These sunspots may generate medium-sized or M-class flares in the coming days, NOAA added.

Related: The sun just erupted with a major X-class solar flare. Here's what it looked like on video

The sun will reach the peak of its current 11-year activity cycle around 2025, but most of the sun storms don't affect us much. Brief interruptions can happen in shortwave, and particles associated with CMEs may supercharge auroras, which are shining lights high in our atmosphere caused by solar particles interacting with molecules in Earth's atmosphere.

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) partner with telescopes around the world to keep an eye on the sun, just in case it happens to blast out something a bit stronger that would affect power lines or satellite communications. 

The agencies also run a number of sun-gazing spacecraft, as well as missions that swoop close to the sun to learn more about its activity. NASA's Parker Solar Probe and ESA's Solar Orbiter sample the solar wind — particles streaming from the sun — and take a look at solar structures and the sun's atmosphere from a relatively close-up view.

Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: