Giant Solar Storm On the Way

Russ Steele

Image: An orbiting spacecraft called the Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this view of the sun about an hour before it launched an X-class solar flare. The purple coloring shows the strength of magnetic fields of the sun. (NASA/SDO/AIA)

Wired Online has some details:

A giant solar flare shot out of a sunspot Thursday, hitting Earth with a powerful burst of X-ray and ultraviolet radiation. Solar researchers expect a small geomagnetic storm to follow and strike Earth this weekend, causing minor satellite glitches and major northern lights shows.

At 12:11 p.m. EDT, the flare began unleashing about a billion hydrogen bombs’ worth of energy. Radiation temporarily jammed some radio frequencies for about an hour.

Right behind the flare is a belch of solar atmosphere called a coronal mass ejection, or CME, which is now traveling toward Earth at about 3.1 million mph. The resulting solar storm should start on Earth on Friday and conclude by Saturday’s end.

Spaceweather has an interactive graphic showing the the path of the CME as it strikes the Earth HERE.  According to a forecast track prepared by analysts at the Goddard Space Weather Lab, the CME will hit Earth on July 14th around 10:20 UT (+/- 7 hours) and could spark strong geomagnetic storms.


The UV pulse partially ionized Earth’s upper atmosphere, disturbing the normal propagation of radio signals around the planet. Monitoring stations in Norway and Ireland recorded the sudden ionospheric disturbance.

The solar protons accelerated by the blast are swarming around Earth. The radiation storm  ranks “S1” on NOAA space weather scales, which means it poses no serious threat to satellites or astronauts. However, there is always the threat of more powerful events, with a more signifiant out come, with a powerful CME pealing off the protective magnetic shield. exposing satellites, power grids and other sensitive electronic equipment.

National Geographic had an article on the history of the these more powerful radiation storms and my friend George Rebane did some Bayesian Analysis on the history of the more powerful events and concluded we would be more vulnerable in Solar Cycle 25, estimated to peak around 2022 “The probability is 0.967 that in the next sunspot cycle we will have an ‘extreme storm’ as defined in the . . . data you sent.” Other scientist predict that we have a 1-8 chance of a more powerful event by 2020.

The question is not if we are going to have more violent solar storms, but when will they arrive. More from Nat Geo HERE.

Cross Posted at NC2012.

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