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Solar storm could strike Earth Thursday: What you need to know

A solar storm is forecast to hit Earth on Feb. 15, 2018.

(Courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams)

A solar storm is forecast to hit Earth early Thursday after the sun unleashed a powerful solar flare — a burst of high-energy radiation — the night of Sunday to Monday.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory Satellite captured a solar flare on the sun releasing a coronal mass ejection (CME) around 8:25 p.m. and Sunday.

“[CMEs] are huge explosions of magnetic field and plasma from the Sun, the corona,” the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) explained in a post online. “When CMEs impact the Earth’s magnetosphere, they are responsible for geomagnetic storms and enhanced aurora.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOA) issued a G1 (minor) geomagnetic storm watch for Thursday.

Here is what you need to know about solar storms and how they can impact the Earth before it hits the planet on Thursday.

What is a solar flare?

Magnetic storms on the surface of the sun can cause what is known as “solar flares.”

“A solar flare is an intense burst of radiation coming from the release of magnetic energy associated with sunspots,” says NASA. “Flares are our solar system’s largest explosive events.”

Why are we under a G1 Look to the next two days? Because of this solar storm seen here in this GIF. The Sun unleashed a long duration C-class flare, which also produced a coronal mass ejection (CME) in the direction of the Earth. Please send all of your Aurora reports @TweetAurora #CitizenScience pic.twitter.com/VCO1Z6857g

— ?Michael Cook? (@SpaceWxMike) February 14, 2018

If the storm is strong enough, this will lead to a CME, that is what happened in this case.

“The strongest flares are almost always correlated with coronal mass ejections,” NASA points out.

How do solar storms affect the Earth?

There are a variety of things that could happen.

  • The storm could increase the brightness and visibility of the northern lights, also known as the Southern or Northern Lights. “Aurora visible at high latitudes, i.e., northern tier of the U.S. such as northern Michigan and Maine,” the NOAA said in an alert Wednesday.
  • Regions shows weak power grid fluctuations, but that is unlikely to happen in this “small” storm.
  • Minor damage Earth-orbiting satellites,”especially those in high, geosynchronous orbits” could occur, NASA says.
  • High frequency radio waves could be “aborted” NASA adds.
  • A NASA study warns solar storms could confuse the internal compasses of marine mammals, allowing an increase in strandings on the beaches.

“Geomagnetic storms are more disruptive than in the past because of our greater dependence on technical systems that can be affected by electric currents and high energetic particles in the magnetosphere of the Earth,” NASA explains.

We should worry?

Not really. Solar storms are actually fairly normal. And fortunately, the atmosphere of the Earth and magnetic fields keep us well protected.

“Some people worry that a gigantic ‘killer solar flare’ could hurl enough energy to destroy the Earth, but this is not actually possible,” NASA explained in a 2013 article online.

Solar flares can have on our planet, but they can, however, lead to numerous distortions (as mentioned above).

 

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