Thu. Aug 18th, 2022

A massive solar flare is set to hit Earth today, authorities warn – potentially disrupting the power grid and bringing the Northern Lights as far south as New York.

The flare – officially known as a coronal mass emission (CME) – was observed on Saturday on the side of the sun facing directly towards our planet and coming when we enter a period of increased solar activity.

A warning was issued by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) warning that the geomagnetic storm could cause fluctuations in the power grid with voltage alarms at higher latitudes where the Earth is more exposed.

NOAA added that satellites can also be affected and could exhibit “orientation irregularities”, meaning that ground control would have to redirect them, as well as anything in a low earth orbit experiencing increased traction.

The geomagnetic storm could reach category G2, which according to the agency is moderately strong.

“Event analysis and model output suggest that CME arrives around noon on October 11, with sustained effects lasting until October 12,” it added, and dinner in the US means late afternoon and early evening in the UK.

The Met Office said: “Aurora is possible through [the] 11. in large parts of Scotland, although cloud cover is rising, meaning observations are unlikely.

“There is a small chance that the aurora will reach far north in England and Northern Ireland tonight, but cloudbursts and therefore observations are more likely in Northern Ireland,” it added.

But astronomers do not expect the flare to cause major disruption according to the Carrington event, believed to be the largest solar storm ever recorded to hit Earth in 1859.

The Carrington event left an aurora visible above the sky, even at latitudes much closer to the equator, and was described in contemporary reports as even brighter than the light of the full moon.

NOAA issued a geomagnetic storm warning
NOAA issued a geomagnetic storm warning

It caused failures in telegraph systems across Europe and North America, and a similar storm today could cause trillions of dollars in damage globally.

Solar activity has been observed rising and falling naturally every 11 years, although it does not quite resemble clockwork, and astronomers believe that we are now in the first years of a new busy period.

A new family of sunspots discovered on the surface of our star last year, released the largest solar flare as researchers have seen since 2017.

Delivery from NASA / Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), an X5.4 solar flare, the largest in five years, erupts from the sun's surface on March 6, 2012. According to reports, particles from the flare are expected to reach the earth in early 7.  March and possibly disrupt technology such as GPS system, satellite networks and airlines.  (Photo by NASA / Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) via Getty Images)
Solar flares are massive emissions of material from the sun – and one is heading directly towards Earth. File image: NASA

There are a number of classes of sunscreens, with the X-Class being considered the most intense. Saturday’s CME was an M-class event, the second strongest behind X.

It is known as a “Halo CME”, as flares heading directly towards Earth can be observed as a halo around the sun.

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