Geomagnetic solar storm to hit Earth for 1st time in 19 years: Do you need to worry? - Hindustan Times
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Geomagnetic solar storm to hit Earth for 1st time in 19 years: Do you need to worry?

AP |
May 10, 2024 08:24 PM IST

A strong solar storm headed toward Earth could produce northern lights in the U.S. and potentially disrupt communications this weekend.

A strong solar storm headed toward Earth could produce northern lights in the U.S. and potentially disrupt communications this weekend.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a rare geometric storm watch — the first in nearly 20 years, saying an ouburst of plasma from a solar flare could interfere with radio transmissions on Earth(AP)
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a rare geometric storm watch — the first in nearly 20 years, saying an ouburst of plasma from a solar flare could interfere with radio transmissions on Earth(AP)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a rare geometric storm watch — the first in nearly 20 years, saying an ouburst of plasma from a solar flare could interfere with radio transmissions on Earth. It could also make for great aurora viewing.

NOAA said the sun produced strong solar flares beginning Wednesday, resulting in five outbursts of plasma capable of disrupting satellites in orbit and power grids here on Earth. Each eruption — known as a coronal mass ejection — can contain billions of tons of solar plasma.

NOAA is calling this an unusual event, pointing out that the flares seem to be associated with a sunspot that’s 16 times the diameter of Earth. An extreme geomagnetic storm in 2003 took out power in Sweden and damaged power transformers in South Africa.

The latest storm could produce northern lights as far south in the U.S. as Alabama and Northern California, according to NOAA.

Do you need to worry ahead of the storm?

There's no reason for the public to be concerned, according to the alert issued Saturday by NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado.

The storm could interrupt high-frequency radio transmissions, such as by aircraft trying to communicate with distant traffic control towers. Most commercial aircraft can use satellite transmission as backup, said Jonathan Lash, a forecaster at the center.

Satellite operators might have trouble tracking their spacecraft, and power grids could also see some “induced current” in their lines, though nothing they can't handle, he said.

“For the general public, if you have clear skies at night and you are at higher latitudes, this would be a great opportunity to see the skies light up,” Lash said.

Every 11 years, the sun's magnetic field flips, meaning its north and south poles switch positions. Solar activity changes during that cycle, and it's now near its most active, called the solar maximum.

During such times, geomagnetic storms of the type that arrived Sunday can hit Earth a few times a year, Lash said. During solar minimum, a few years may pass between storms.

In December, the biggest solar flare in years disrupted radio communications.

 

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