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Strongest Magnetic Storm Of Solar Cycle Sparks Rare Auroras Across Northern California, Continental U.S.

(CBS SF) -- A storm from the broiling sun sparked bright auroras reaching as low as Northern California Tuesday, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center.

NASA says a coronal mass ejection hit the Earth's magnetic field on March 17.  At first, the impact sparked a relatively mild G1-class geomagnetic storm. However, the storm has intensified to G4-class, making it the strongest geomagnetic storm of the current solar cycle, which began in 2008.

The geomagnetic storm is strong enough to cause disrupt power systems, GPS and security systems. Beyond the Earth's atmosphere, the storm could impact spacecraft and cause orientation problems in satellites.

RELATED: NASA To Study Mysterious 'Magnetic Explosions' Between Earth, Sun That Unleash Dangerous X-Rays

The storm is also sparking auroras around the Arctic Circle, which can be seen as low as Northern California and North Carolina. But those looking for a light show Tuesday night in the Bay Area may not as lucky.

aurora forecast

It's a different story in Alaska where photographer Marketa Murray captured the below photo. "The auroras were insane," she said. Murray told she's seen a lot of auroras, but "have never seen anything like this."

The University of Alaska ranks the intensity of Tuesday's lights at four out of 10. In the continental U.S., a four is relatively rare.

(Marketa Murray)

Solar, also known as geomagnetic, storms come from coronal mass ejections which originate from the sun. A coronal mass ejection contains a billion tons of solar particles shooting off the surface of the sun and into space. When it comes into contact with the Earth, it energizes our planet's outer atmosphere and creates auroras near the North and South Pole.

This storm could continue for many hours to come as Earth passes through the turbulent wake of the coronal mass ejection.

LATEST UPDATES: Solar Flare Activity | Space Weather Alerts

People shared photos capturing the auroras on Twitter:




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