Geomagnetic Storms I Oxford Open Learning

    Geomagnetic storms

    Geomagnetic Storms

    The Northern Lights And Other Lesser-Known Effects

    In May, the world stood still,(or at least those with clear skies and late bedtimes did), to take in the rare global Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) event. An enchanting spectacle, the Northern Lights appear in the sky, as you would expect, in the direction of due North, illuminating the night sky in colours such as pink, pale green, and shades of red, blue, yellow, and violet. It’s like being in a fairy tale.

    However, there’s nothing fantastical about it; the Northern Lights are not created by magic, they are as a result of scientifically understood Geomagnetic Storms. These are temporary disturbances of the Earth’s magnetosphere caused by a solar wind shock wave (emanating from the Sun’s Corona) which causes an increase in energy in the Earth’s magnetosphere and ionosphere, which create the auroral light displays known as the Northern Lights.

    What was unusual about the recent Geomagnetic storm in early May was its intensity; being the most powerful in two decades meant that the Auroras (Northern and Southern Lights) were visible across their respective hemispheres not just from the poles as is the norm. This made it a fascinating worldwide spectacle.

    However, as well as providing an entertaining light show for the public, Geomagnetic storms have some other significant but lesser-known effects which scientists and historians are well aware of. The storms can disrupt telecommunications, GPS, radio, satellites, and even the electrical power grid.

    For example, high-frequency radio transmission between aircraft and distant traffic control towers can be impacted. Thankfully, most commercial aircraft can transmit through satellites as a backup. Satellite operators themselves are not entirely immune though, and may have difficulty tracking their spacecraft and the power grids, (including our very own National Power Grid). They can also experience some ‘induced current’ in their lines, but can safely compensate.

    The Greatest Geomagnetic Storms: Past, Present And Future

    Back in December 2023, there was another big solar storm that temporarily knocked out radio communication on Earth, which led to two hours of radio interference and multiple reports from pilots of communications disruptions. But we have to go back nearly two centuries to 1859 for the biggest geomagnetic storm on record, known as the Carrington Event, which does sound ominous. The solar flare involved in this case was so massive that it reached the Earth in 18 hours, (it normally takes 4 days!). Telegraph wires in Europe and the US experienced induced voltage increases which delivered shocks to some telegraph operators and started fires. The Aurora Borealis over the Rocky Mountains in the US was so bright that the glow woke miners who started to prepare breakfast because they thought it was morning!

    However, if you like what you saw in 2024 then brace yourself for 2025. Although we are unlikely to reach the highs of the Carrington Event, next year the sun reaches the peak of its 11-year cycle, and maximum solar flare activity is predicted!


    If you are interested in studying a Science subject, Oxford Home Schooling offer the chance to do so at several levels, listed below. You can also Contact Us.

    Science Key Stage 3

    Biology IGCSE

    Chemistry IGCSE

    Human Biology IGCSE

    Physics IGCSE

    Science IGCSE

    Biology A level


    See more by

    I am a practising HR consultant working with several start-ups on an ongoing and ad-hoc basis in the London and M4 area, and am a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development or CIPD. I am the Director of; is a resource for start-ups and small business. It includes a blog containing career advice, small business advice articles, HR software reviews, and contains great resources such as HR Productivity Apps.