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"Extreme" and very rare G5-level solar storm hits Earth on Saturday

Update — May 11, 2024 at 9:11 AM EDT

On May 11, 2024, at 07:28 AM EDT (1128 UTC), extreme (G5) solar conditions were observed once again by the NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC). The geomagnetic storming, which varies in intensity, is expected to persist through at least Sunday.

This latest event follows a series of strong solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that have been occurring since Wednesday.

Another strong solar flare detected

A powerful X5.4 magnitude solar flare was detected from sunspot cluster NOAA region 3664.

Solar flares of this magnitude are relatively rare and are characterized by intense eruptions of energy from the Sun that typically last anywhere from minutes to hours.

The flare reached its peak at 01:23 AM EDT on May 11, 2024.

Potential impact on high-frequency radio signals

Users of high-frequency (HF) radio signals may experience temporary degradation or complete loss of signal on much of the sunlit side of Earth due to the solar flare.

The threat of additional strong flares and CMEs is expected to remain until the large and magnetically complex sunspot cluster (NOAA region 3664) rotates out of view over the next several days.

Power grid irregularities and communication disruptions

There have been reports of power grid irregularities and degradation to high-frequency communications and GPS.

In response, NOAA has alerted operators of power plants and spacecraft in orbit, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to take necessary precautions.

According to NOAA scientist Rob Steenburgh, this storm poses a risk for high-voltage transmission lines for power grids, but not the electrical lines typically found in residential homes.

Satellites could also be affected, potentially disrupting navigation and communication services on Earth.

Auroras visible across most of the United States

Weather permitting, auroras should be visible again tonight for most of the continental United States.

Steenburgh and his colleagues suggest that phone cameras may provide the best aurora views, as they are better at capturing light than the naked eye.

“That’s really the gift from space weather: the aurora,” Steenburgh noted.

No serious threat to ISS astronauts

NASA has stated that the storm poses no serious threat to the seven astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

The primary concern is the increased radiation levels, and if necessary, the crew could move to a better shielded part of the station, according to Steenburgh.

As the solar activity continues, scientists and authorities remain vigilant in monitoring the situation and providing updates to ensure the safety of critical infrastructure and the general public.

Understanding geomagnetic storms

Geomagnetic storms are disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic field caused by the interaction between the solar wind and the planet’s magnetosphere. These storms can have significant impacts on technology, infrastructure, and even human health.

Causes of geomagnetic storms

Geomagnetic storms typically originate from the Sun. They are caused by two main phenomena:

  • Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs): Massive bursts of plasma and magnetic fields ejected from the Sun’s surface.
  • Solar Flares: Intense eruptions of electromagnetic radiation from the Sun’s surface.

When these events occur, they send charged particles streaming towards Earth at high speeds, which can take anywhere from one to five days to reach our planet.

Effects on Earth’s magnetic field

As the charged particles from CMEs and solar flares reach Earth, they interact with the planet’s magnetic field. This interaction causes the magnetic field lines to become distorted and compressed, leading to fluctuations in the strength and direction of the magnetic field.

Impacts on technology and infrastructure

Geomagnetic storms can have significant impacts on various aspects of modern technology and infrastructure:

  • Power Grids: Strong geomagnetic storms can induce currents in power lines, causing transformers to overheat and potentially leading to widespread power outages.
  • Satellite Communications: Charged particles can damage satellite electronics and disrupt communication signals.
  • GPS and Navigation Systems: Geomagnetic disturbances can interfere with the accuracy of GPS and other navigation systems.
  • Radio Communications: Storms can disrupt radio signals, affecting communication systems that rely on HF, VHF, and UHF bands.

Aurora formation

One of the most visually striking effects of geomagnetic storms is the formation of auroras, also known as the Northern and Southern Lights.

As charged particles collide with Earth’s upper atmosphere, they excite oxygen and nitrogen atoms, causing them to emit light in various colors.

Monitoring and forecasting

Scientists continuously monitor the Sun’s activity and use various instruments to detect and measure CMEs and solar flares.

This data helps them forecast the timing and intensity of geomagnetic storms, allowing for better preparedness and mitigation of potential impacts.

Historical geomagnetic storms

Some of the most notable geomagnetic storms in history include:

  • The Carrington Event (1859): The most powerful geomagnetic storm on record, which caused widespread telegraph system failures and auroras visible as far south as the Caribbean.
  • The Halloween Storms (2003): A series of powerful geomagnetic storms that caused power outages in Sweden and damaged transformers in South Africa.
  • The Quebec Blackout (1989): A geomagnetic storm that caused a massive power outage affecting millions of people in Quebec, Canada.

Understanding geomagnetic storms is crucial for protecting our technology-dependent world and mitigating the potential risks associated with these powerful space weather events.


Update — May 10, 2024 at 8:11 PM EDT

On Friday, April 12, 2024, at 6:54 pm EDT, extreme (G5) geomagnetic conditions reached Earth. This event followed G4 conditions first observed at 1:39 pm EDT and G3 conditions at 1:08 pm EDT.

Geomagnetic storming of varying intensity is likely to persist through the weekend, with and the SWPC website serving as the best resource for warnings and alerts.

Coronal mass ejections cause geomagnetic storming

The current geomagnetic activity has been caused by seven Earth-directed Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), which began entering the Earth’s outer atmosphere earlier today.

These CMEs have been associated with solar flares due to a large and magnetically complex sunspot cluster, known as NOAA Region 3664. This sunspot cluster is at least 17 times the diameter of Earth, and additional solar activity from this region is possible.

Potential Impacts on Technology and Infrastructure

The ongoing geomagnetic storming may lead to several potential impacts:

  1. Power grid irregularities
  2. Disruptions to HF/VHF/UHF communication
  3. Interference with GPS and satellite navigation
  4. Issues with other technologies reliant on stable geomagnetic conditions

Authorities and individuals should remain vigilant and prepared for any disruptions caused by this event.

Aurora visibility across the Continental United States

Weather permitting, the geomagnetic storming may result in aurora being visible across much of the continental United States.

This rare occurrence provides an opportunity for skywatchers to witness the stunning display of the Northern Lights in regions where they are not typically seen.

Historical context: Halloween storms of October 2003

The last G5 (Extreme) event occurred during the Halloween Storms in October 2003. That particular G5 event resulted in power outages in Sweden and damaged power transformers in South Africa, highlighting the potential severity of such geomagnetic disturbances.

This newest storm, caused by seven streams of plasma ejected from the sun earlier this week, could rival the intensity of the 1859 Carrington event, which disrupted global communications and set telegraph stations on fire.

As the current geomagnetic storming continues, it is crucial for individuals and organizations to stay informed about the latest developments and take necessary precautions to mitigate any potential risks associated with this extraordinary event.

Stay tuned to and the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) for updates.


Update — May 10, 2024 at 7:31 PM EDT

NOAA Warning: Seven Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) are racing towards Earth

NOAA scientists have witnessed severe (G4) geomagnetic storm conditions today. Several additional Earth-directed Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) are in transit to Earth’s outer atmosphere, making it highly likely that geomagnetic storming will persist through the weekend.

A large, complex sunspot cluster (NOAA Region 3664), which has now grown to 17 times the diameter of Earth, has been the primary source of this activity. Experts still expect additional activity from this Region.

Since the current solar cycle began in December 2019, observers have only witnessed three Severe geomagnetic storms.

G4 and G5 level storms in history

The most recent G4 (Severe) storm occurred on March 23, 2024, while the Halloween Storms in October 2003 marked the last G5 (Extreme) event.

The G5 storm notably caused power outages in Sweden and damaged transformers in South Africa, underscoring the potential consequences of such powerful geomagnetic disturbances.

This newest storm, caused by seven streams of plasma ejected from the sun earlier this week, could rival the intensity of the 1859 Carrington event, which disrupted global communications and set telegraph stations on fire.

Potential impacts on modern infrastructure

In our technology-dependent society, a geomagnetic storm of this magnitude could cause widespread electrical disruptions, blackouts, and damage to critical infrastructure. Some of the potential impacts include:

  • Voltage control problems and mistaken tripping of protective systems in the power grid
  • Intensified induced pipeline currents
  • Surface charging and increased drag on low Earth orbit satellites
  • Tracking and orientation problems for spacecraft
  • Degraded or inoperable satellite navigation (GPS) for hours
  • Sporadic or blacked out high frequency (HF) radio propagation

Spectacular auroral displays expected

Despite the potential risks, the event could also trigger magnificent nighttime auroras, or Northern lights.

Auroras may be seen as low as Florida and Texas in the southern states, down to Missouri in the Midwest, and down to Southern California on the west coast.

The auroral displays are expected to begin around 11:00 PM ET on Friday, May 10, 2024 and continue for several days.

Monitoring the storm’s severity

Scientists will have a better understanding of the storm’s severity around 8:00 PM ET when the plasma explosions are nearly one million miles from Earth. NOAA plans to issue alerts immediately to keep the public informed of the situation.

Possibility of a “Cannibal CME”

Scientists have also predicted that three of the six plasma streams, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), could combine to create a powerful “cannibal CME,” further intensifying the storm’s impact.

Understanding geomagnetic storms

Geomagnetic storms occur when high-energy particles released from solar flares ejected by the sun reach Earth. Although the sun continuously erupts and hurls particles into space, Earth’s distance of 93 million miles from the sun usually prevents these particles from reaching our planet.

Preparing for the worst

Clinton Wallace, director of NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), emphasized the agency’s readiness, stating, “We anticipate we will get one shock after another. We are really buckling down here.”

While officials predict an event slightly less severe than the Carrington event (a G5 geomagnetic storm), they are not discounting the possibility of reaching the lower end of the same measurement scale, which ranges from G1 to G5.

As Earth prepares for this potentially historic geomagnetic storm, it is crucial to stay informed and heed any warnings or alerts issued by NOAA and other official sources.

By understanding the risks and taking appropriate precautions, we can minimize the storm’s impact on our modern way of life while marveling at the awe-inspiring auroral displays it may bring.

Stay tuned to and the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) for updates.


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