Why we need to watch out for a super storm at the end of October

This article is over 5 months old Solar storm track points to possibility of disruption to power grids and satellites After the dramatic solar flare that erupted on Tuesday, the US Geomagnetic Storm Forecast…

Why we need to watch out for a super storm at the end of October

This article is over 5 months old

Solar storm track points to possibility of disruption to power grids and satellites

After the dramatic solar flare that erupted on Tuesday, the US Geomagnetic Storm Forecast Center (GSWC) is issuing a swarm of weather alerts – including the potential for high-powered auroras – over the next two weeks.

Experts believe the risk of storm-related disruption to power grids and satellites is low, but it is precautionary, and contains warning signs of the potential for future disruption.

State of emergency declared in California and Arizona after two days of intense solar activity Read more

In the case of the last coronal mass ejection (CME), which occurred on 27 February, Earth was spared critical damage.

Solar flares – bursts of plasma, material and magnetic field – occur due to the Sun’s ferocious magnetic activity. The bursts can create radio waves with energies 100,000 times more powerful than the disturbances they come in.

In its latest update, the GSWC says there is an 80% chance that the next CME will occur between Tuesday 15 October and Wednesday 18 October.

The CME’s are a bulge of solar material moving outwards at speeds of up to 9,000mph towards Earth. Usually they pass harmlessly through our atmosphere. But when the magnetic fields in the solar wind strengthen, they can create G-force winds that could send particles into the upper atmosphere and coronal holes.

Solar wind sometimes also comes in a “reflected wave”. A sudden event can cause CMEs to focus their power in just the right way to cause disruption, whereas a gradual rewind of the sun’s energy would have a more modest effect.

A new “alarm signal” has been placed on an early solar eruption as early as Tuesday in an effort to predict the potential for solar storms.

A temporary extended geomagnetic storm watch is also in place in the US on 18 October.

The most powerful solar flares can slam into Earth’s magnetic field, producing energy pulses and polar auroras, as well as electromagnetic storms and the strongest aurora watchers would ever hope to see.

Incredibly, even the strongest solar flares are too weak to trigger superheated currents in power grids. CMEs can do lasting damage, however, as a record eruption in 2010, known as the Carrington event, did.

Power surges and malfunctions on electrical infrastructure such as poles, dams, electricity transmission grids and water systems could result in power outages lasting for days or weeks.

A much smaller loss of power from Coronal Mass Ejections on Earth is similarly potentially severe.

Scientists calculate a global storm caused by the Carrington Event would cause $200bn in damage.

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