As the Northeast is getting pounded by a nor’easter, the sun is bringing its own weather: a solar storm. A minor solar storm will reach Earth Wednesday and Thursday (March 14-15) and could amplify the planet’s auroras, making them visible from the northernmost parts of the U.S.
A solar storm is when a magnetic eruption, called a coronal mass ejection, takes place in the sun’s atmosphere. The solar storm originated from a coronal hole, a region on the sun that allows particles to stream out into space. These charged particles can reach speeds up to one-third the speed of light. Protons traveling extra-fast can reach the Earth’s surface in just half an hour.
Does a Solar Storm Cause Damage?
If a big solar storm hits Earth, it can wreak havoc on electrical grids and satellites. Some of the effects include extra currents along power lines
and widespread power outages. Radio waves and GPS signals can also be disrupted by the energy from this phenomenon. The storm expected today could trigger fluctuations in power grids but will have only a minor impact on satellites.
Interestingly, small solar storms like this one begins to affects migratory animals.
A Solar Storm Can be Beautiful
They’re also responsible for the Aurora Borealis over the North Pole and Aurora Australis over the South Pole. These phenomena occur when Earth’s magnetic field funnels charged particles from the sun to the polar regions. When this solar wind interacts with particles in Earth’s atmosphere, it causes a stunning glow.
Just like storms in the Earth’s atmosphere, solar storms have different levels of severity. Scientists classify these geomagnetic storms on a scale of G1 (minor) to G5 (extreme).
The solar storm predicted for March 14 is categorized as a G1, so while some weak power grid fluctuations are possible. During strong solar storms, the solar wind can trigger what scientists call a geomagnetic storm. Depending on its intensity, such a storm can trigger radio blackouts, interfere with power grids on Earth and affect satellites in orbit.
Like any kind of weather, scientists are getting better at predicting when a solar storm will hit. This allows people to be better informed and able to take precautions against it.
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