Roughly two weeks ago, a magnificent display of aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, painted the night sky in unexpected locations, captivating audiences far beyond their usual haunts. While the celestial spectacle was undeniably awe-inspiring, it also sparked concerns about the potential consequences of such events.

To understand public sentiment, a Real Research survey was conducted, revealing a mix of fascination and apprehension.

Key Findings:

  • Two-thirds knew about the recent aurora, but only a third fully grasped the science behind it.
  • Over 60% were aware of the risk aurora borealis poses to Earth’s technology.
  • The recent powerful storm (G5) had people worried, with nearly two-thirds expressing concern about its impact.

Dazzling Aurora Borealis

The survey found that two-thirds of respondents (67.17%) were aware of the recent aurora borealis. However, when it came to the science behind these dazzling lights, knowledge was less widespread.

scientific-explanation-behind-the-occurrence-of-auroras
Figure 1: Respondents’ awareness of the scientific explanation behind the occurrence of auroras.

Science Knowledge of the Aurora

According to NASA, an aurora’s display of colors is the result of electrons shot out of the sun during solar storms. As the charged particles reach Earth, they travel along the planet’s invisible magnetic field lines into the atmosphere, interacting with the air. When those particles strike gases, they heat up and glow.

Only a third (33.32%) were fully informed about this scientific explanation behind aurora borealis, with another third (30.93%) having a general understanding. 35.75% remained entirely unfamiliar with the phenomenon.

Sun’s on a Cycle, So are Auroras

Solar activity follows an 11-year cycle, with periods of increased activity leading to more frequent solar flares and coronal mass ejections. Currently, we are nearing the peak of this cycle, expected around mid-2025, which explains the recent surge in solar storms. Interestingly, 59.28% seemed aware of the cyclical nature of solar activity.

Can Auroras Mess with Our Gadgets?

Solar storms, though not harmful to humans, can disrupt Earth’s technology, affecting communications, power grids, satellites, and navigation systems. Over two-thirds (62.92%) of those surveyed were aware of this.

solar-storms-can-disrupt-technology
Figure 2: Most are aware that solar storms can disrupt technology.

With our reliance on technology, it’s no surprise that a similar percentage (67.08%) expressed concern about the potential effects of frequent auroras on technological infrastructure.

A G5 to Remember

The intensity of the recent solar storm, categorized as a G5 (the highest rating), resonated with many. It was the strongest to hit Earth’s atmosphere since ‘The Halloween Storms’ in 2003.

aurora-borealis
Figure 3: Previous reports of aurora borealis concern respondents.

For this, nearly two-thirds (66.07%) expressed concern, likely due to comparisons drawn to the infamous Carrington Event of 1859 – a solar storm so powerful it caused widespread disruptions. Meanwhile, 33.93% remained unconcerned.

Methodology

Survey TitleSurvey on the Concerns Over Frequent Aurora Borealis
DurationMay 9 – May 27, 2024
Number of Participants6,000
DemographicsMales and females, aged 21 to 99
Participating Countries Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Benin, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, China (Hong Kong) China (Macao), China (Taiwan), Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Greanada, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Ivory Coast, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Libya, Lithuania, Malaysia, Maldives, Maluritania, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar [Burma], Namibia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam, Yemen, Zimbabwe.