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'Extreme' solar storms cook up sweet Mother's Day auroras for Moms everywhere

•, By Meredith Garofalo

Want to save all the calories from Mother's Day brunch? You may still be able to "sweeten" the holiday with a view of the ramped-up northern lights again tonight (May 12)!

Plasma from a powerful solar eruption called a coronal mass ejection (CME) slammed into Earth on Friday (May 10), sparking an intense geomagnetic storm. One of the effects was a supercharged northern lights display, which provided skywatchers in much of the U.S. and other regions around the world with absolutely mesmerizing aurora views over the weekend.

"The aurora may become visible over much of the northern half of the country, and maybe as far south as Alabama and northern California," officials with NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) wrote in a weekend update, adding that "severe and extreme" geomagnetic storms were likely again Sunday night.

And the show could continue tonight; another CME launched from the super sunspot region AR3664 is expected to approach Earth by midday. The result could be more rounds of severe to extreme geomagnetic storms — G4 to G5 on the space weather scale devised by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) — into the evening and perhaps into Monday (May 13). 

"It takes an extraordinary CME to produce G5 conditions," Bill Murtagh, program coordinator for NOAA's SWPC, told in a phone interview. "We're expecting a decent impact from the CME tomorrow [Sunday]. It was just a little bit further from the limb [edge] of the sun, but still good enough that it should give us a good hit. And if everything couples right, we could certainly see the sky lit up again."

While boosted auroras are quite a treat, extreme (G5) geomagnetic storms can also have negative effects. From the conditions observed at the beginning of the weekend, irregularities have been reported to power grids as well as some degradation to GPS and high-frequency communications.