The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reports a sudden increase in geomagnetic activity that may signal the onset of a geomagnetic storm. While it is geomagnetic storms that give rise to the beautiful Northern lights, they can also pose a serious threat for commercial and military satellite operators, power companies, astronauts, and they can even shorten the life of oil pipelines in Alaska by increasing pipeline corrosion.
A significant increase in geomagnetic activity was observed at about 12:45 p.m. (ET) on Thursday, April 6, 2000. Space Weather sources at NOAA & NASA indicate that the likely cause of this increased activity is due to an interplanetary shock wave that was detected by the ACE satellite at about 12:30 p.m. (ET) today. Magnetic activity increased at all USGS magnetic observatories about 15 minutes later and could be significant over the next 24-48 hours. If this geomagnetic activity continues, there is the possibility for visible aurora at mid-latitudes. Plots of the data from these observatories can be seen on-line at: http://geomag.
Geomagnetic storms occur when plasma, a hot ionized gas of charged particles produced by eruptions on the Sun, impacts the Earth's magnetic field causing it to fluctuate wildly. These fluctuations cause currents to flow in conductors on the ground and in space. Solar eruptions can produce billions of tons of plasma traveling at speeds in excess of a million miles an hour.
The USGS provides valuable geomagnetic data to a wide variety of users and organizations that are affected by geomagnetic storms. The agency operates a network of 14 magnetic observatories that continuously monitor the Earth's magnetic field. The data are collected in near-real time via satellite to a downlink center located in Golden, Colo., and provided to numerous customers including NOAA's Space Environment Center and the U.S. Air Force Space Command Center.
As the nation's largest water, earth and biological science, and civilian mapping agency, the USGS works in cooperation with more than 2000 organizations across the country to provide reliable, impartial, scientific information to resource managers, planners, and other customers. This information is gathered in every state by USGS scientists to minimize the loss of life and property from natural disasters, to contribute to the conservation and the sound economic and physical development of the nation's natural resources, and to enhance the quality of life by monitoring water, biological, energy, and mineral resources.
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