A Class X solar flare sent three blasts of charged particles toward Earth over the last few days, The effect will be felt Thursday and Friday and last 24 to 48 hours. Class X is the largest category.
Northern Lights will put on a dazzling show that should be visible all the way down to the northern United States and U.K. There is some possibility of damage to electronic equipment. Already, radio communications are being affected.
The U.S. National Weather Service reported in a statement that “Ground to air, ship to shore, shortwave broadcast and amateur radio are vulnerable to disruption during geomagnetic storms. Navigation systems like GPS can also be adversely affected.”
A Class X Solar Flare
This is the sun’s strongest magnetic eruption since 2006. In 1973, a magnetic storm from a solar flare knocked out power to 6 million Canadians.
Instabilities in the sun’s magnetic field cause charged solar material to be accelerated away from the surface of the sun at up to two million mph. It is called a coronal mass ejection, or CME. From Earth a CME looks like a jet of flame shooting out from sun. If the jet is pointed at Earth, we know we can expect the high-energy charged particles to arrive in a few days.
The Northern Lights
When the particles hit the Earth’s magnetic field at the poles, they spiral down the magnetic field lines. The spiraling causes them to emit light: The Aurora Borealis in the north and the Aurora Australis in the south.
When speeding charged particles pass wires, like phone lines or power lines, they induce electricity to flow in the wire. This can cause very high voltages to build up. That is what damaged the power grid in the 1973 Canadian event.
Since 1973, the entire world has adopted computerized communications and controls. The problem is that modern computer chips are extremely voltage sensitive. Scientists warn that there is a very real probability that eventually a solar flare could knock out all modern electronics.
When was the last time you saw a video of a sun-spot and solar flare? Here’s one: