The most powerful solar storm in half a decade is about to hit our planet Earth, putting electrical systems, satellite navigation and other technology at a slight risk of failure.
The Sun released a Coronal Mass Ejection, a mighty explosion of plasma, on Tuesday evening. The effects of that ejection should strike Earth at approximately 7 a.m. ET on Thursday morning and last until Friday, according to the federal government’s Space Weather Prediction Center.
Bob Rutledge, lead at the Forecast Office at the Space Weather Prediction Center, told Mashable he thinks the storm is “modest,” but it’s getting attention because “we haven’t really had a lot [of solar activity] in recent memory.”
Rutledge and his team don’t consider the storm to be powerful enough to cause serious damage. They have classified the event as a “three” on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s one-to-five scale of solar storm severity.
According to that rating, the storm might wreck havoc with power grids, radio communications, GPS systems and Earth-orbiting satellites, but it shouldn’t cause major blackouts or failures.
Additionally, according to Rutledge, some airlines are already planning alternate routes to avoid the Earth’s polar regions. Those areas are particularly sensitive to solar radiation, which has been known to cause communication problems between aircraft during solar storms.
What about the astronauts living onboard the International Space Station, outside the protective shield of Earth’s atmosphere? NASA spokesman Rob Navias said today that the space agency doesn’t consider the storm strong enough to warrant taking extra precautions for their astronauts.
There’s a silver (and blue, and green and purple) lining to a solar storm — their radiation is known to trigger particularly impressive light shows from the Aurora Borealis, or “northern lights.”
If the storm arrives around the time it’s expected, stargazers in Central Asia will stand the best chance of witnessing the Aurora’s dancing colors, although viewers from northern latitudes across the world may be treated to a glimpse, too. But, unfortunately for curious onlookers who venture out in the March cold for a solar show, their view may be impeded by Thursday night’s bright full Moon.
Are you worried about the potential effects of the solar storm? Or are you hoping for a glimpse at the Aurora Borealis? Sound off in the comments below.
Images courtesy of NASA