Space Weather Prediction Center said that it was probable that the solar flare that happened on Wednesday did create a coronal mass ejection (CME), although that won’t be confirmed until further analysis. If the solar flare did create a CME, the question becomes, how hard will it hit the Earth?
Wednesday’s solar flare registered as an X-class flare, meaning it was considered ‘extreme.’ The effects of the solar storm that was created by the flare are not causing much fear among weather experts, although it will help to create stunning effects in the Earth’s atmosphere, which can be viewed live on the Internet from the Slooh Space Telescope here. What does concern people is the possible after effect of the major solar flare, a CME.
A CME is a large burst of solar wind that ejects from the Sun’s corona. The event releases super-heated particles travelling at immense speeds, and when those particles hit the Earth, they cause a geomagnetic storm, which is capable of wrecking havoc on electrical systems. A CME from the recent major solar flare would take several days to reach Earth.
In 1859, humanity had its first well-recorded glimpse of the power of such a storm. Aurorae could be seen from the Caribbean to the Rocky Mountains to the Australia. The glow was so bright it was said to have woken up gold miners. Telegraph machines failed across the world, in some cases shooting out sparks and injuring operators.
Luckily for the people of 1859, there was no complicated electrical grid necessary for their daily lives. If such an event happened today, it would be a disaster.
According to Slooh astronomer Bob Berman,
“A government-sponsored panel in 2008 estimated that such a solar event today would likely destroy the U.S. electrical grid, inflict a staggering $1 to $2 trillion dollars worth of damage, and require over a year to repair. So it’s more than of mere academic interest to monitor and observe these violent events as they unfold. Plus, they’re amazing to watch.”
Nevertheless, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has made some predictions about the potential CME event.
Space weather forecaster Bill Murtagh said,
“We expect geomagnetic storm levels in the G2 (moderate) and G3 (strong) range. G2-G3 geomagnetic storms can cause some problems for the (power) grid but are typically very manageable. We may also see some anomalies with satellites so satellite operators around the world have been notified.”
If Wednesday’s major solar flare does not produce a devastating CME event with the increased solar activity, there’s still a 12% of it happen by 2024.
[Image Credits: milnersblog.files.wordpress.com and NASA/Wikimedia Commons]