Get ready Earthlings, the sun is expected to wreak some havoc on our planet Monday – with an enormous solar flare that could disrupt power grids, affect spacecraft and make the northern lights visible in New York.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has issued a G2, or moderate, geomagnetic storm watch “due to the anticipated arrival of a CME (coronal mass ejection).”
Among the possible effects of the sudden flash of increased brightness from our star 93 million miles away are power grid fluctuations, voltage alarms at higher latitudes, spacecraft orientation irregularities and increased drag on low-Earth orbiters, the NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center said.
But the most spectacular outcome of the massive CME could be the aurora borealis – or polar lights – that are normally visible in the high-latitude regions of Earth, but “may be visible as low as New York to Wisconsin to Washington state,” the advisory says.
The ethereal waves of color – also known as the northern lights – are created when energized particles from the sun strike the planet’s upper atmosphere at astronomical speeds of up to 45 million mph, according to Space.com.
“As Earth’s magnetic field redirects the particles toward the North Pole, the dramatic process transforms into a cinematic atmospheric phenomenon that dazzles and fascinates scientists and skywatchers alike,” the site explains.
The powerful flare, which was observed Saturday on the sun, occurred amid a period of increased solar activity, according to Sky News.
“Event analysis and model output suggest CME arrival around midday on 11 Oct, with lingering effects persisting into 12 Oct,” NOAA said, referring to the late afternoon in the US.
Despite the alert, astronomers do not expect the flare to unleash the kind of disruption as the Carrington Event — the largest geomagnetic storm on record — did in September 1859, the news outlet said.
That storm created strong auroras even close to the equator and inflicted serious damage to telegraph systems.
Solar activity has risen and fallen every 11 years and astronomers believe a new busy period is upon us — as a new family of sunspots triggered the biggest solar flare that have been observed since 2017, according to Sky News.
There are several classes of solar flares, with X-class considered the most intense. The one observed Saturday was an M-class event, the second-strongest.
Last month, University of California Irvine Assistant Professor Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi warned that an unmitigated solar “superstorm” could “cause large-scale Internet outages covering the entire globe and lasting several months.”
Most of the time, we’re protected from the sun’s radiation thanks to the ionosphere, otherwise known as Earth’s magnetic shield. But sometimes, solar flares penetrate our shield and wreak havoc on just about anything powered with electromagnetism.
It has been estimated that the potential damage caused by a disastrous CME in 2012, which only narrowly missed our planet, would have cost the US alone up to $2.6 trillion.
“Our [internet] infrastructure is not prepared for a large-scale solar event,” Jyothi told Wired recently, citing such consequences as widespread blackouts, mass traffic jams and a breakdown in the global supply chain, to name a few.