Southern African Skies Light Up with Aurora as Historic Solar Storm Collides with Earth

Press release from the South African National Space Agency (SANSA)

Source: SANSA

A historic solar storm impacted Earth throughout the night on Friday, 10 May 2023 and continued into Saturday, 11 May 2024. The South African National Space Agency (SANSA) Space Weather Centre issued several G4 warnings and, for the first time since 2003, one G5 warning was issued. The Geomagnetic Storm Scale indicates the severity of geomagnetic storms. It is denoted by a G followed by a number from 1 to 5, with 1 being a minor event and 5 being an extreme event. 

A geomagnetic storm occurs when charged particles from the Sun, caused by a coronal mass ejection (CME), interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. The impact of such a storm on technological systems can be significant, potentially disrupting satellite communications, power grids, and GPS systems. However, it is also the origin of the northern and southern lights. Several reports of Aurora Australis, also known as the Southern Lights, were visible over the Southern tip of Africa. There were reports of Southern light sightings from Gansbaai in the Western Cape and Namibia, among others.

                              Aurora Australis captured by Johan le Roux from Gansbaai. Source: SANSA

The energetic particles from the Sun cause auroras as they interact with the gases in the upper atmosphere. Jon Ward, acting Executive Director at SANSA Space Science in Hermanus, noted that this is the largest geomagnetic storm observed in a long time. Although the likelihood of such a storm occurring is quite low, the severity of the impacts on technological systems can be very high. The energy and transport sectors are particularly vulnerable at the moment.

“Space weather is a global phenomenon; the impacts are regional and vary greatly depending on the time of the storm’s arrival and whether the region is experiencing it day or night.” 

 “South Africa built the SANSA’s Space Weather Centre to focus on the impacts in the African region. This storm highlights the importance of businesses using technologies that are susceptible to the adverse effects of space weather and including space weather in their risk planning. The world is so dependent on technology now, and everything is so integrated, with devices becoming smarter and more interconnected. We are much more susceptible to disruptions due to solar events and space weather than 20 years ago. Awareness of space weather is critical in  planning to protect against potential losses.” 

The South African National Space Agency (SANSA) launched its 24/7 operational Space Weather Centre at its facility in Hermanus in November 2022. This state-of-the-art facility operates around the clock to monitor and mitigate space weather risk on our continent. SANSA has been actively studying and forecasting space weather since 2009 and is Africa’s only accredited space weather centre.

Watch this video about space weather here.  

About the South African National Space Agency

At SANSA, we believe in creating an infinite impact for all South Africans through technological advancement and innovation. The agency was established in 2010 through the South African National Space Agency Act, 36 of 2008. SANSA aims to promote cooperation in space-related activities, foster research in space science, advance scientific engineering through human capital and support the development of an environment conducive to industrial development in space technologies.

For more information, contact df*****@sa***.za">Daleen Fouche, a communications practitioner at SANSA, and vm******@sa***.za">Vaneshree Maharaj, the communications manager at SANSA.