Warning as Biggest Solar Storm in Decades Is About To Hit Earth

We don’t know when the peak of activity for this solar cycle will be, but we’re getting close, and the Sun isn’t disappointing. For the first time since January 2005, the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center has issued a severe geomagnetic storm watch. A lot of high-speed plasma from the Sun is heading towards our planet, ready for an impact with it.

Our planet’s magnetic field protects us, but we must be aware of the effects of the most powerful geomagnetic storms. A severe storm can cause widespread voltage control problems and create issues for the navigation and operation of satellites, which we need for everyday activity from communications to navigation. It can also create radio blackouts.

Warning as Biggest Solar Storm in Decades Is About To Hit Earth
That massive sunspot is visible to the naked eye (⚠️ wear eclipse glasses though!) and is responsible for several coronal mass ejections that are about to slam into our planet.

It is not all bad news, however. We are about to experience some spectacular aurorae. As the solar plasma interacts with the Earth’s magnetosphere, particles fly around and strike the atmosphere. They produce varying colors depending on the gas with which they interact.

Due to the high amount and energy of plasma, aurorae may appear at lower magnetic latitudes than usual, possibly as low as northern California in the US and northern Germany in Europe. In the Southern Hemisphere, Tasmania and New Zealand’s south island should see some celestial light show.

Warning as Biggest Solar Storm in Decades Is About To Hit Earth
Extreme Ultraviolet views of the Sun with flares released from the massive sunspot AR3664.
Image Credit: NASA/SDO/AIA

The source of all this can be found in a massive and extremely active sunspot. AR3664 has produced several solar flares in recent days. The sunspot is as large as 16 Earths side by side, and it can be seen with the naked eye. But please, wear eclipse glasses! We do not want a repeat of Google’s trend on eclipse day!

This burst of activity has resulted in numerous coronal mass ejections. At least five of them are targeted at Earth. It is possible that three of them will combine to form a cannibal coronal mass ejection, which occurs when a subsequent coronal mass ejection is faster than the ones that preceded it.  So it catches up to them, merges with them, and slams a tsunami of plasma on the planets on its path.

Warning as Biggest Solar Storm in Decades Is About To Hit Earth
Coronal mass ejections seen from the Sun in the last few days (the bright dots are Venus on the right and Jupiter on the left)
Image Credit: NASA/ESA/SOHO

The plasma will begin to hit Earth on May 10 and continue until May 12. The majority of it arrives on Saturday. A great time to go somewhere with a clear dark sky facing the nearest pole.

There are approximately 100 severe geomagnetic storms per solar cycle or roughly every 11 years. Extreme solar storms are much rarer, occurring only four times per cycle. The previous one, though, was unusual because it lacked both. The last extreme geomagnetic storm occurred on Halloween 2003, causing power outages in Sweden and damaging power transformers in South Africa.

Warning as Biggest Solar Storm in Decades Is About To Hit Earth

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