Wild World of Weather: Solar Storm Marathon

Nurro, Daniela Gamba, Eyewire, citizen science, Wild World of Weather, meteorology

“Weather” typically refers to what’s going on with Earth’s atmosphere, based on air currents, the water cycle, and more. But did you know that not only are all of these things reliant on the Sun, there is also such a thing as solar weather? In fact, solar weather can influence our own weather in a geomagnetic manner, especially when the Sun produces some of the wildest weather of all: solar storms!

How do solar storms happen, and what do they cause on Earth?

To start out, remember the Sun is a lot like a giant nuclear reactor; it’s not just shining bright in a consistent way, instead burning in a constant turmoil of superhot elements. As a result, our home star can get overexcited and sometimes shoot out plumes of magnetized plasma, known as coronal mass ejections, often preceded by visual phenomena like solar flares. These events create immense amounts of energy, ranging from 1020 to 1025 joules. Since a single joule is enough energy to lift a 100 gram tomato upward by 1 meter, in this case we’re talking about enough energy to lift at least 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 (100 quintillion) tomatoes!

If a coronal mass ejection (CME) reaches the Earth, it disturbs our atmosphere by having this magnetic shock wave “wrap around” the planet and release terawatts of electromagnetic power into the upper atmosphere. This release of power is what a solar or geomagnetic storm actually constitutes, but the effects are intense: even at lower latitudes, you may see the aurora (Northern or Southern Lights), often in spectacular displays. When these storms are particularly heavy-duty, our electrical, communication, and navigational systems can go haywire. There may also be hazardous radiation for astronauts and high-altitude aircraft.

HQ can think of no wilder sort of weather than this kind, but for better or worse, solar storms don’t usually last longer than 24 hours. With that in mind, starting at 10:00 AM EST on 2/24, you will have 24 hours to complete one or more cells! Bonus & cell renaming information can be found in your in-game notifications. You’re reading correctly: challenge week marathons are now beginning two hours later than in recent years!

Swag (made possible by generous donations from our past player @susi): The top player (defined by number of points earned during the marathon time period) will win their choice of tote bag or t-shirt! Also, among the top 25% of players, 2 players will each be raffled their choice of tote bag or t-shirt, and 3 more players will be raffled their choice of sticker or magnet.

Artwork by Daniela Gamba