Alert: Potent Solar Storm Threatens Earth's Skies and Communications
Alert: Potent Solar Storm Threatens Earth’s Skies and Communications

Experts warn that a potent solar storm could hit Earth as early as Friday, potentially illuminating skies with the Northern Lights across several states and disrupting communications.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has issued a “very rare” Severe G4 Geomagnetic Storm Watch from Friday through the weekend, marking the first issuance of such a watch in almost two decades.

According to NOAA, the sun began emitting powerful solar flares, accompanied by a sunspot cluster 16 times the diameter of Earth, on Wednesday. The emitted radiation, traveling at the speed of light, can cause shortwave radio blackouts, while coronal mass ejections (CMEs) — eruptions of plasma and magnetic fields — may take days to reach Earth.

CMEs, upon arrival, can induce geomagnetic storms. NOAA reports the observation of at least five “earth-directed” CMEs, expected to impact as early as Friday and persist over the weekend.

Describing a G4 storm, NOAA warns of potential “widespread voltage control problems” and the risk of protective systems inadvertently tripping out critical assets from the grid. Satellite navigation may also suffer degradation for hours, with the potential for aurora displays reaching as far south as Alabama.

NOAA emphasizes the potential impact of geomagnetic storms on infrastructure, including near-Earth orbit and terrestrial systems, potentially disrupting communications, power grids, navigation, and satellite operations. Protective actions are advised for operators of these systems.

The agency’s last G4 Watch issuance dates back to 2005. The repercussions of powerful solar storms, exemplified by events like the 2003 Halloween solar storms, underscore the vulnerability of modern technological infrastructure. The historic Carrington Event of 1859 serves as a sobering reminder of the potential catastrophic effects of extreme solar activity, including widespread auroras and disruptions to telegraph equipment.

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