The largest solar storm in seven years is about to pummel the earth. A Coronal Mass Ejection to be precise.
John Matson reports
Last night the sun unleashed a flash of radiation called a solar flare, along with a generous belch of ionized matter that is now racing toward Earth at thousands of kilometers a second. The solar storm front from the ionized blast, called a coronal mass ejection (CME), should arrive tomorrow morning, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC). The forecasters called the event the strongest solar storm since 2005.
When a solar storm hits Earth, the impact can have a number of consequences, especially in Earth orbit and at high latitudes, where the planet’s geomagnetic shielding is thin. Solar storms can knock out satellites, cause blackouts, and force aircraft to avoid polar routes. Storms can also bring the aurora borealis, a.k.a. the northern lights, down to unusually low latitudes. (You can see a slideshow of recent low-latitude auroras here.)
The SWPC is forecasting that the inbound storm will reach G2 (“moderate”) and possibly G3 (“strong”) levels on the geomagnetic storm scale, which tops out at G5. A G3 storm should not cause severe problems for satellite operators or power companies but could interrupt satellite-based navigation systems and some radio communications. Such storms can also produce auroras visible as far south as Illinois and Oregon, according to the SWPC.