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A «severe geomagnetic storm watch» — the first in nearly 20 years — is issued with NOAA warning that the world’s power grids, communications networks and satellite operations could be affected.


Officials warned that an unusually strong solar storm could occur in space on Friday – the first in nearly 20 years, if it materializes.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a Severe (G4) Geomagnetic Storm Watch late Thursday night — itself the first such warning issued since January 2005, when Earth was hit with the highest dose of radiation it has ever seen. in half a century.

This time an «unusual event» could disrupt electronic equipment such as GPS and parts of power grids, the US agency said – citing how it could also envelop a huge swath of the earth in a spectacular ring of light.

It follows a series of solar flares that began on Wednesday, during which several large ejections of plasma from the sun were observed – setting the stage for the warning issued on Thursday.

In it, officials explained how the ejection of matter and magnetic field from the celestial body’s atmosphere could cause problems for millions of Earthlings — as early as noon ET Friday.

A solar or geomagnetic storm is a major disturbance in the Earth’s magnetosphere—the region around Earth controlled by the planet’s magnetic field—often caused by a CME. A coronal mass ejection (CME) image from the Sun as captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite on June 17, 2015.

The emergency alert read: 'NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) - a division of the National Weather Service - is monitoring the Sun following a series of solar flares and coronal mass ejections that began on May 8.  Sunspots and flares observed by scientists are seen here

The emergency alert read: ‘NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) – a division of the National Weather Service – is monitoring the sun following a series of solar flares and coronal mass ejections that began on May 8. Sunspots and flares spotted by scientists can be seen here

«NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) — a division of the National Weather Service — is monitoring the sun following a series of solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that began May 8,» the emergency alert said.

“Space weather forecasters have issued a severe (G4) geomagnetic storm watch for Friday evening.

«Further solar flares could cause geomagnetic storm conditions to persist through the weekend,» it continued, before describing the anomalous activity that has put off space specialists.

«A large sunspot cluster has produced several moderate to strong solar flares since 5 a.m. ET Wednesday,» it said.

“At least five eruptions have been associated with CMEs that appear to be directed from Earth. SWPC forecasters will monitor NOAA and NASA space assets for a geomagnetic storm.

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The agency further defined CMEs – explosions of plasma and magnetic fields from the solar corona.

They cause geomagnetic storms when pointed at Earth, they warned – saying they had been doing so since Friday.

Solar flares can damage satellites and have huge financial costs.  Charged particles can also threaten airlines by disrupting the Earth's magnetic field

Solar flares can damage satellites and have huge financial costs. Charged particles can also threaten airlines by disrupting the Earth’s magnetic field

«Further solar flares could cause geomagnetic storm conditions to persist through the weekend,» officials said, before describing the anomalous activity that has put off space specialists.

«Geomagnetic storms can affect infrastructure in near-Earth orbit and on the Earth’s surface,» the statement continued, noting how the storm could «potentially (disrupt) communications, power grid, navigation, radio and satellite operations.»

Scientists further warned that it could also «wipe the internet» for some – as NOAA raised the geomagnetic storm watch from moderate to severe from Friday to late Sunday.

«SWPC has notified the operators of these systems so they can take protective action,» officials wrote in administering the measure.

«Geomagnetic storms can also produce spectacular aurora displays on Earth,» they added of some of the potential storm’s scenic side effects.

«A strong geomagnetic storm includes the potential for the aurora borealis to be seen as far south as Alabama and northern California.»

The aurora borealis – the display of natural light in the Earth’s sky – would look a bit like the recognizable aurora borealis.

A solar or geomagnetic storm is a major disturbance in the Earth’s magnetosphere – the region around Earth controlled by the planet’s magnetic field.

«A strong geomagnetic storm includes the potential for the aurora borealis to be seen as far south as Alabama and northern California,» officials wrote Thursday. The aurora borealis – the display of natural light in Earth’s sky – would look a bit like the recognizable aurora borealis

WHAT IS A SOLAR STORM?

A solar or geomagnetic storm is a major disturbance in the Earth’s magnetosphere – the region around Earth controlled by our planet’s magnetic field.

A solar storm occurs when there is a very efficient exchange of energy from the solar wind into the space environment surrounding Earth

The Earth’s magnetosphere is created by our magnetic field and protects us from most of the particles that the Sun emits.

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But when a CME, or high-velocity jet, reaches Earth, it hits the magnetosphere.

If the incoming solar magnetic field is directed south, it interacts strongly with the oppositely oriented magnetic field of the Earth.

Earth’s magnetic field then peels back like an onion, allowing energetic particles from the solar wind to flow along field lines and enter the atmosphere across the poles.

Source: NASA

As mentioned in the alert, it is caused by a CME – with Friday’s storm rated a «G4» (on a scale of one to five), making it a «severe» storm.

The last time the Space Weather Prediction Center issued such a Severe Geomagnetic Storm Watch was on January 20, 2005, starting just before 2:00 a.m. ET.

A storm of energetic protons hit Earth just 15 minutes later, causing a high-frequency radio discharge, indicating the presence of large numbers of energetic electrons in very strong magnetic fields.

In the blink of an eye, the blast hit Earth with the highest dose of radiation measured in five decades and instantly shut down radiation monitors across the planet.

«This eruption produced the largest solar radiation signal on Earth in nearly 50 years,» Richard Mewaldt of the California Institute of Technology said at the time, as other services such as the Internet were largely spared.

«But we were really surprised when we saw how quickly the particles reached their maximum intensity and reached the Earth,» the scientist added.

In that case, the raging proton storm peaked in 15 minutes — though it usually takes two hours or more for the most intense part of a proton event to form, officials said Thursday.

If the event occurs, it will begin as early as noon ET, officials warned — after a 2004 G5 storm caused blackouts in Sweden while also damaging power transformers in South Africa.

This time, the US is likely to be affected, officials said.

This is a developing story; please come back for more updates.

SOLAR STORMS ARE A CLEAR DANGER TO ASTRONAUTS AND CAN DAMAGE SATELLITES

Solar stormor solar activity, can be divided into four main components that may impact Earth:

  • Solar flare: A large explosion in the solar atmosphere. These eruptions are made of photons that travel outward directly from the eruption site. Solar flares only impact Earth when they occur on the side of the Sun facing Earth.
  • Coronal Mass Ejections (CME’s): Large clouds of plasma and magnetic field that erupt from the Sun. These clouds can explode in any direction and then continue in that direction, cutting through the solar wind. These clouds only cause impacts on the Earth when they are directed at the Earth.
  • High-speed streams of the solar wind: These come from coronal holes on the Sun, which form anywhere on the Sun and usually only when they are closer to the solar equator do winds hit Earth.
  • Solar energy particles: High-energy charged particles thought to be released primarily by shocks created at the front of coronal mass ejections and solar flares. When a CME cloud is ripped through the solar wind, solar energetic particles can be created, and because they are charged, they follow the magnetic field lines between the Sun and Earth. Only charged particles that follow the magnetic field lines that cross the Earth will have an impact.
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Although this may seem dangerous, astronauts are not at immediate risk from these phenomena due to the relatively low orbit of manned missions.

However, they do have to worry about cumulative exposure during spacewalks.

This photo shows the sun's coronal holes in an X-ray image.  The outer solar atmosphere, the corona, is structured by strong magnetic fields that, when closed, can cause the atmosphere to suddenly and violently release bubbles of gas and magnetic fields called coronal mass ejections.

This photo shows the sun’s coronal holes in an X-ray image. The outer solar atmosphere, the corona, is structured by strong magnetic fields that, when closed, can cause the atmosphere to suddenly and violently release bubbles or tongues of gas and magnetic fields called coronal mass ejections.

Damage caused by solar storms

Solar flares can damage satellites and have huge financial costs.

Charged particles can also threaten airlines by disrupting the Earth’s magnetic field.

Very large eruptions can even create currents in electrical grids and knock out power supplies.

When coronal mass ejections hit Earth, they cause geomagnetic storms and enhanced auroras.

They can interfere with radio waves, GPS coordinates and overload electrical systems.

A large surge of energy could flow into high-voltage power grids and permanently damage transformers.

This could shut down businesses and households around the world.

Source: NASA – Solar Storm and Space Weather



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