Huge solar storm could strike the Earth on Halloween and disrupt satellites

·2-min read

A major solar flare was discharged from the Sun yesterday, one of the strongest yet in our star’s cycle, with the flare expected to reach the Earth this weekend.

“An R3 (Strong radio blackout) event took place due to an X1 flare at 1535 UTC (11:35 am EDT) on 28 October from Region 2887”, the US Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) wrote in a statement.

“The impulsive flare appeared to have coronal mass ejection (CME) related signatures, however, analysis is ongoing and we are also awaiting updated coronagraph imagery at this time.”

A coronal mass ejection involves the emis­sion of electrically charged matter and accompany­ing magnetic field into space.

When it hits our planet, it interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field to produce currents on the crust.

‘X-class’ signifies the most intense flares, with the number relating to its strength. An X2 is twice as intense as an X1, and an X3 flare is three times as intense. Flares that are X10 or stronger are considered unusually intense.

The flare is directly heading to the Earth and could cause a G3-class geomagnetic storm on 30 October. “Such storms can spark naked-eye auroras as far south as Illinois and Oregon (typically 50 degree geomagnetic latitude) and photographic auroras at even lower latitudes. Lesser G1 and G2-class storms could persist through Halloween as Earth passes through the CME’s wake”, Spaceweather reports.

A G3-class storm could cause false alarms in power systems and may increase drag on low-Earth orbit satellites. The smaller storms may influence high-latitude power systems, or cause weak fluctuations, but will have minor impacts on humans. A G2-rated solar storm hit the Earth earlier this month

It is likely that this flare will be manageable, but a severe solar storm (which occurs approximately every century) could cause an “internet apocalypse”.

In that event, power lines could be damaged, and experts say we have no idea how resilient the current infrastructure of the internet is to large solar activity.

“Since CMEs often originate in magnetically active regions near sunspots, a larger number of sunspots will increase the probability of a powerful CME. If this estimate proves accurate, it will also significantly increase the probability of a large-scale event in this decade,” Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi from the University of California, Irvine and VMware Research says.

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