A severe geomagnetic storm sparked by a solar flare swept the Earth Monday and a second is forecast to strike late Wednesday afternoon.
The impact has the potential to be worldwide — everything from power being disrupted to radios blacking out to global positioning systems going a little off-course.
Monday’s event, which was still winding down Tuesday, doesn’t seem to have caused any failures or forced planes to reroute, according to industry statements. It registered as a G4 storm on the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center’s five-step geomagnetic storm scale and touched off auroras that were visible across northern Asia, Europe and parts of Canada and the United States.
A G5 storm could be a catastrophic event, with the complete collapse of some power grids, satellite navigation disrupted for days and “hundreds of amps” of current in pipelines.
“It looks like we’ll possibly be in a much similar situation” on Wednesday, according to an official at the space weather center in Boulder, Colorado. Nothing will be known for sure until about 30 minutes before it gets to Earth.
Using a coronagraph, forecasters on Earth can get a pretty good idea of the size of the sun’s coronal mass ejection (CME) and extrapolate its potential from there. The CME is an explosion of magnetic fields and plasma from the sun’s atmosphere.
However, it’s only when the CME reaches NASA’s ACE satellite, parked one million miles from Earth, that the details of what’s coming will be known. The trip from ACE to Earth will take the CME about 30 minutes, the official said.
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