Forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center said the sun erupted Tuesday evening and the effects should start smacking Earth late Wednesday night, close to midnight ET. They say it is the biggest in five years and growing.
The magnetic storm has the potential to trip electrical power grids. Its radio emissions can disrupt global positioning systems to make them less accurate. It also could damage satellites.
Scientists said communication problems and radiation from the storm will probably force airplanes to avoid flying over the north and south poles. Colorful auroras may be more visible.
Britain could face widespread power blackouts and be left without critical communication signals for long periods of time, after the earth is hit by a once-in-a-generation “space storm”, Nasa has warned.
In a new warning, Nasa said the super storm would hit like “a bolt of lightning” and could cause catastrophic consequences for the world’s health, emergency services and national security unless precautions are taken.
Scientists believe it could damage everything from emergency services’ systems, hospital equipment, banking systems and air traffic control devices, through to “everyday” items such as home computers, iPods and Sat Navs.
Due to humans’ heavy reliance on electronic devices, which are sensitive to magnetic energy, the storm could leave a multi-billion pound damage bill and “potentially devastating” problems for governments.
A “space weather” conference in Washington DC last week, attended by Nasa scientists, policy-makers, researchers and government officials, was told of similar warnings.
While scientists have previously told of the dangers of the storm, Dr Fisher’s comments are the most comprehensive warnings from Nasa to date.
Solar Maximum or ‘solar max’ is the period of greatest solar activity in the solar cycle of the sun. During solar maximum, sunspots appear.
A solar maximum is the period when the sun’s magnetic field lines are the most distorted due to the magnetic field on the solar equator rotating at a slightly faster pace than at the solar poles. The solar cycle takes an average of about 11 years to go from one solar maximum to the next with an observed variation in duration of 9 to 14 years for any given solar cycle.
Solar Cycle 24 is the present cycle we are in. According to NASA, the intensity of geomagnetic storms during Solar Cycle 24 may be elevated by a large breach in Earth’s magnetic field which was discovered by the THEMIS spacecraft in 2008. A 20-fold increase in particle counts that penetrate the Earth’s magnetic field may be expected.
Giant Breach in Earth’s Magnetic Field
Dec. 16, 2008: NASA’s five THEMIS spacecraft have discovered a breach in Earth’s magnetic field ten times larger than anything previously thought to exist. Solar wind can flow in through the opening to “load up” the magnetosphere for powerful geomagnetic storms. But the breach itself is not the biggest surprise. Researchers are even more amazed at the strange and unexpected way it forms, overturning long-held ideas of space physics.