January 23, 2012
Worst Solar Storm Since 2005 To Hit Earth Tuesday
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency's (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) issued a geomagnetic storm watch as experts predicted that the biggest solar storm since 2005 is expected to hit Earth Tuesday morning, various media outlets are reporting.
According to Fox News reports, at approximately 11pm Eastern time on Sunday night, the sun released an "immense blast of plasma" that has caused authorities to redirect the flight plans of certain high-altitude aircraft. In addition, the geomagnetic storm could also have an impact on the planet's power grid.On Monday, the SWPC posted the following advisory to their website: "As the strongest Solar Radiation Storm (S3) since May, 2005 continues, the associated Earthward-directed Coronal Mass Ejection is expected to arrive about 1400 UT (9am EST) Jan 24. SWPC has issued a Geomagnetic Storm Watch with G2 level storming likely and G3 level storming possible, with the storm continuing into Wednesday, Jan 25. "
The organization promised to post updates as they learn more.
Alexis Madrigal, senior editor at The Atlantic, said that witnesses observed the sun spew forth an M9 flare, which he says is "just a hair away" from the most powerful type of discharge.
The coronal mass ejection (CME) that has resulted is sending charges particles towards us at a level not seen in more than a decade, Madrigal said, but the storm itself will rank as an S3 on a scale that runs from S1 to S5 -- meaning that "it may cause problems for some satellites and will make for prettier aurorae in the arctic regions near the Earth's magnetic poles," but should not pose much of a threat overall.
Likewise, Doug Biesecker of the SWPC told FoxNews.com that there was no risk to people on Earth, and NASA spokesperson Kelly Humphries told Space.com that the U.S. space agency does not believe that the astronauts currently on board the International Space Station (ISS) were in harm's way.
Last Thursday, the NASA Space Weather Services observed a "long duration M-class flare" at had started erupting on the sun shortly before 9 a.m. Eastern time. That flare produced an earthbound CME that NASA reported had been traveling at speeds exceeding 600 miles per second, and it was predicted to reach Earth and produce "strong geomagnetic storms" on Saturday, January 21.
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