Solar Flare 2012: Massive Solar Storm Headed For Earth

One of the most powerful solar storms in the last five years was unleashed yesterday after a massive solar flare erupted from the sun. Space weather scientists are closely watching the sun’s activity as the storm could interfere with satellite communication and power grids.

Joseph Kunches, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said:

“Space weather has gotten very interesting over the last 24 hours… When the shock arrives, the expectation is for heightened geomagnetic storm activity and the potential for heightened solar radiation… There is the potential for induced currents in power grids… Power grid operators have all been alerted. It could start to cause some unwanted induced currents.”

NASA captured a video of the solar flare (below) as it erupted and hurled a “big blob of magnetized material” toward the earth. The AR1429 sunspot region shout off a solar flare on Sunday and two more yesterday. The AR1429 region is currently pointing almost directly at earth which means that the coronal mass ejection could have a big impact on earth.

Harlan Spence, an astrophysicist at the University of New Hampshire, told

“The sun is waking up at a time in the month when Earth is coming into harm’s way. Think of these CMEs somewhat like a bullet that is shot from the sun in more or less a straight line. When the sunspot is right in the middle of the sun, something launched from there is more or less directed right at Earth. It’s kind of like how getting sideswiped by a car is different than a head-on collision. Even still, being sideswiped by a big CME can be quite dramatic.”

The New York Times reports that the coronal mass ejection will hit earth at about 1:30 a.m on Thursday morning.

Here’s a video about the 2012 solar flare from NASA.

The giant active sunspot AR1429 has given space weather scientists plenty to monitor recently and the solar activity isn’t expected to slow down anytime soon. The sun’s activity is expected to increase until it peaks next year.

“We’ve got a whole series of things going off, and they take different times to arrive, so they’re all piling on top of each other. It complicates the forecasting and predicting because there are always inherent uncertainties with any single event. Now, with multiple events piling on top of one another, that uncertainty grows.”

Alex Young, a solar physicist at NASA Goddard, said that it isn’t inevitable that the solar storm tonight will interrupt satellite communication. Young says that the solar storm may just put on a great light show, saying that auroras will be visible as far south as Illinois.

Do you think satellite communication will be disrupted by the solar storm? Or will we just get a chance to watch a great light show?