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Another round of "Severe" and "Extreme" solar storms expected tonight and tomorrow

Update — May 11, 2024 at 3:15 PM EDT

A series of coronal mass ejections (CMEs) originating from sunspot Region 3664 are expected to merge and reach Earth by midday (UTC) on May 12, 2023, causing another large geomagnetic solar storm and producing auroras across the continental United States.

These CMEs, associated with recent flare activity, are likely to cause periods of G4-G5 (Severe-Extreme) geomagnetic storms upon arrival. Watches at this level are considered very rare occurrences.

Understanding coronal mass ejections and their impact

CMEs are massive eruptions of solar material ejected from the Sun’s surface. When these eruptions reach Earth, they can trigger geomagnetic storms, with the intensity depending on the size of the CME.

Region 3664 has been particularly active, producing two additional X-class flares in the past 12 hours, further contributing to the anticipated geomagnetic events.

Potential impacts of the incoming solar storms

The area primarily affected by these geomagnetic disturbances is expected to be poleward of 40 degrees Geomagnetic Latitude. The potential impacts include:

Induced currents

Widespread voltage control and protective system problems may occur, potentially leading to component failures or protective device trips in power grid systems. These issues could result in blackouts or disruption of electrical service. Pipeline currents can also reach hundreds of amps during such events.

Spacecraft anomalies

Spacecraft systems may experience various anomalies, including extensive surface charging, unexpected orientation and attitude changes, uplink/downlink errors, and satellite orbit degradation.

Navigation disruption

Satellite navigation systems, such as GPS, may be degraded or unavailable for several days due to the geomagnetic disturbances.

Radio communication difficulties

High frequency (HF) radio propagation may be impossible in many areas for one to two days, affecting communication systems that rely on this technology.

Auroral displays

The intense geomagnetic activity may cause auroras to be visible at much lower latitudes than usual, potentially as far south as Florida, southern Texas, and southern California.

Staying informed and prepared about solar storms

As these rare and severe geomagnetic events approach, it is crucial for individuals and organizations to stay informed about the potential impacts and take necessary precautions to mitigate any disruptions to their systems and operations.

Monitoring space weather updates and having contingency plans in place can help minimize the effects of these powerful solar storms.

Understanding geomagnetic solar 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.

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


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.


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