What is a solar storm? Could a solar storm this week cause technological disruption? NOAA expert explains

What is a solar storm?  Could a solar storm this week cause technological disruption?  NOAA expert explains

Earth is in the midst of a mild solar storm – but will it be powerful enough to cause technological disruption?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center issued a geomagnetic storm watch after observing a coronal mass ejection (CME) — a powerful blast of magnetized plasma from the Sun’s corona, its outer layer — moving away from the Sun on Sunday.

A coronal eruption is expected to cause a moderate solar storm here on Earth on Monday and Tuesday, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

So what exactly does all this mean, and should we be worried?

What is a solar storm?

A solar storm, also known as a geomagnetic storm, occurs when the solar wind — which consists of charged particles constantly flowing from the Sun — interacts with Earth’s magnetic field, or magnetosphere, causing significant disturbance, according to NASA. The type and intensity of this disturbance depends on changes in the solar wind, which can produce large changes in currents, plasma and fields in the Earth’s magnetosphere.


NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of a solar flare on October 2, 2014.


Sean Dahl, coordinator of NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, told ABC News that the current solar storm was caused by the explosion of a filament, a magnetic field suspended above the sun’s surface containing billions of tons of solar material. When this magnetic field becomes unstable, it can sometimes fling material into space, dragging an extremely strong local magnetic field with it, Dahl said.

Dahl said it was these filament explosions that caused the solar storms observed on Saturday and Sunday and again on Monday morning.

How solar storms can affect technology

Severe geomagnetic storms can bombard the Earth with subatomic particles, which in turn could disrupt navigation systems by interfering with radio and GPS signals, as well as electrical power grids, according to NOAA. The storm also adds energy to currents in the magnetosphere in the form of heat that can increase the density and density distribution in the upper atmosphere, which in turn increases drag on satellites in low Earth orbit.

“This is what many things depend on when we communicate with satellites in space,” Dahl said.

The Sun unleashed a powerful solar flare, peaking at 12:02 PM EDT, on December 14, 2023. NASA

The Sun unleashed a powerful solar flare, peaking at 12:02 PM EDT, on December 14, 2023.


Dahl said this storm should not have any major impacts on daily life. Dahl added that while the power grid may notice anomalous activity on high-voltage transmission lines, it is equipped to deal with even the slightest glitch.

Additionally, if anything starts to happen with satellites in low Earth orbit, and the atmosphere there warms due to geomagnetic storm activity, measures could be taken to keep the satellites at their proper orbital altitude, Dahl said.

Where the northern lights will be visible in the United States

One of the most common coronal ejection features affecting Earth’s magnetosphere is the aurora borealis, more commonly known as the northern lights, where the interaction creates bands of light in the far northern sky that glow green, pink, and other colors. In the Southern Hemisphere, this phenomenon is known as the aurora, or southern lights. Dahl told ABC News that the glowing streaks occur as energy states return to normal.

“This light is what we see as the aurora borealis,” he said.

The stronger the solar storm, the further south the northern lights can be seen.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) classifies geomagnetic storms on a five-point scale, with storms rated G5, the strongest, being capable of widespread voltage control problems that can lead to power outages or even the complete collapse of some systems. Energy networks. In this scenario, the aurora borealis could be seen as far south as Florida and southern Texas.


Aurora forecast for tonight, January 22, 2024.


While the general public does not need to worry about an incoming G2, or “moderate”, storm, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) warns that power systems at high latitudes may experience electrical voltage alerts, while longer-lasting storms may cause… In damage to transformers. In addition, high-frequency radio signals can fade out at higher latitudes.

This time of year, the aurora borealis are usually most visible several hours after sunset until around midnight, Dahl said. Dahl added that viewers wanting to see them will have to take into account the full moon, as well as stay away from any city lights — especially to the north, because that’s the direction to look.

The aurora is expected to be visible Monday through Tuesday in the northern and upper Midwestern states, from New York to Idaho, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Forecasts show that in the absence of clouds, the northern lights could be seen from states such as South Dakota, Iowa, North Dakota, Montana, Michigan, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

Why the aurora borealis, solar storms may occur more frequently

Dahl said more aurora displays are likely in the coming years, as the Sun reaches the maximum activity stage of its solar magnetic field in 2025. Dahl explained that the Sun reaches solar maximum approximately every 11 years, at which time the magnetic field equalizes. to the sun and returns to normal.

Earth is currently approaching the peak of solar cycle 25, where more sunspots with intense magnetic activity are expected to appear, according to NOAA. Impactful space weather events are possible throughout 2024.

Dahl said the expected peak of this solar cycle will be from now until October.

“This whole year and into 2025 is a good time to expect more of this type of activity,” Dahl said.

The total solar eclipse on April 8 will give stargazers a rare opportunity to see the sun’s corona. Dahl advised viewers to equip themselves with the correct glasses to observe this phenomenon safely.

“It’s time to buy equipment,” he said.

Copyright © 2024 ABC News Internet Ventures.

(Marks for translation) Solar storm

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