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Largest Solar Storm Since 2005 to Hit Earth Tuesday

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Sunday's solar flare (in upper right quadrant), as witnessed by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. Credit: NASA

Last night the sun unleashed a flash of radiation called a solar flare, along with a generous belch of ionized matter that is now racing toward Earth at thousands of kilometers a second. The solar storm front from the ionized blast, called a coronal mass ejection (CME), should arrive tomorrow morning, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC). The forecasters called the event the strongest solar storm since 2005.*

When a solar storm hits Earth, the impact can have a number of consequences, especially in Earth orbit and at high latitudes, where the planet’s geomagnetic shielding is thin. Solar storms can knock out satellites, cause blackouts and force aircraft to avoid polar routes. Storms can also bring the aurora borealis, aka the northern lights, down to unusually low latitudes. (You can see a slideshow of recent low-latitude auroras here.)

The SWPC is forecasting that the inbound storm will reach G2 (“moderate”) and possibly G3 (“strong”) levels on the geomagnetic storm scale, which tops out at G5. A G3 storm should not cause severe problems for satellite operators or power companies but could interrupt satellite-based navigation systems and some radio communications. Such storms can also produce auroras visible as far south as Illinois and Oregon, according to the SWPC.

Researchers predict that the coronal mass ejection should reach Earth around 9:00 A.M. (Eastern Standard Time) on Tuesday, January 24. But that timeline is a bit uncertain; SpaceWeather.com notes that the storm could hit up to seven hours sooner or later than that. It should continue into the following day, according to SWPC forecasts, so auroras could be visible Tuesday night in North America.

* UPDATE (5:20 P.M., 1/24/2012): NOAA says the geomagnetic storm from the CME has only reached G1 (“minor”) levels but that the storm of radiation is now the strongest since 2003.

About the Author: John Matson is an associate editor at Scientific American focusing on space, physics and mathematics. Follow on Twitter @jmtsn.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. alan6302 7:18 pm 01/23/2012

    The dec 21 event may turn out to be a cme activated poison.The poison is predicted to attack the heart.

    Link to this
  2. 2. David Russell 3:25 pm 01/24/2012

    Alan I have a bad ticker can you explain your comment a little better.

    Thanks,
    David

    Link to this
  3. 3. DocSolo 5:47 pm 01/24/2012

    @alan6302, yes, could you please explain your opinion a little further?

    Link to this
  4. 4. alan6302 6:09 pm 01/24/2012

    If the theory is correct , a stealth poison will be activated by an emissions of a CME. A radio should work. This would account for the wormwood prophesy.

    Link to this
  5. 5. David Russell 10:28 pm 01/24/2012

    Alan this page tries to stick to science. We have CME’s all the time. There is a 22 year cycle that takes two 11 year cycles to complete in which the solar magnetic fields get so twisted up we get what we call Solar Max and Solar Minimum which points to the sunspots which are reflective of the heavy magnetic storms and during this time there are many mass releases of energy on many levels of energy. It has been going on for at least as long as man and based on our understanding of stars is quite natural. Please don’t upset an old man with a bad ticker with comic book science. We get enough of that from other people all the time.

    Link to this
  6. 6. nltorres89 11:33 pm 01/24/2012

    So what does this mean for us, with this storm coming? Will we be affected by this is anyway, doesn’t seem to be addressed anywhere but people are becoming so concerned with 12/21/12 coming earlier than expected we should be concerned about this what is literally happening right now!

    Link to this
  7. 7. walas75 12:36 pm 01/25/2012

    No esta comprobado que la energía que se irradia hacia la tierra en forma de electrones afecte de alguna manera a la raza humana y no existe conocimiento de la activación de algún tipo de veneno a causa de este efecto, por otro lado la radiación en forma de neutrinos puede causar disturbios electrostáticos principalmente a las telecomunicaciónes, existe un sistema de sensores para detectar la llegada de neutrinos hacia la tierra para detectar la magnitud de este fenómeno, lo interesante sería tratar de aprovechar éste tipo de energía.

    Link to this
  8. 8. Grumpyoleman 7:51 am 01/26/2012

    I’m a little confused. There have been several similar announcements of a CME in the past week or so with predicted arrival day of Wednesday, this Saturday, and Tuesday. What Tuesday? If people are going to predict doomsday, they need to be a little more precise…put a date on it! I have stuff I need to do before it hits.

    Link to this
  9. 9. CVMCo 6:49 am 02/18/2012

    @Grumpyoleman; It’s not like anyone can schedule burps from the sun around your routine.

    The point is that the solar flare activity is increasing through-out this year 2012 and beyond, on it’s 11 year cycle. This can cause problems with all forms of electrical generators, and or satellites orbiting earth. Unlike anything we’ve experienced before. Due to our dependency on all things electrical/communications etc. could be wiped out for days, weeks, or even years, according to world renowned scientists including NASA^

    So get your affairs in order ASAP, no one can predict the severity, but chances are… it won’t be pretty!

    Link to this

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