HomeTop StoriesSevere geomagnetic storm warning issued for first time in nearly 20 years...

Severe geomagnetic storm warning issued for first time in nearly 20 years amid ‘unusual’ solar event

Sunspot could bring northern lights to New England

Sunspot could bring northern lights to New England

2:00 am

A severe G4 geomagnetic storm could develop on Friday, giving NOAA officials the first time in nearly two decades to monitor a storm of this size. The watch comes after days of solar activity that apparently sent several blasts of plasma and magnetic fields towards Earth.

G4s are the second strongest form of geomagnetic storms and are known to potentially cause widespread voltage regulation problems. According to NOAA, they can also cause some security systems to “take important assets off the grid,” as well as cause orientation problems for spacecraft. Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, can be seen as far south as Alabama and as far north as California.

In a news release on Thursday, NOAA said the most recent series of solar events began on May 8, when a large cluster of sunspots produced “several moderate to strong solar flares.” Solar flares are bursts of radiation that NASA says are the largest explosive events in the solar system. The area where the recent eruptions occurred is 16 times the diameter of Earth, NOAA said, and more solar activity is expected.

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There has also been a series of coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which are explosions plasma and magnetic fields emanating from the sun’s corona, the outer part of the sun’s atmosphere. At least five CMEs appear to be headed toward Earth and could arrive as early as Friday afternoon and last through Sunday, the agency said.

“This is an unusual event,” NOAA said.

NOAA’s GOES-16 satellite captured the solar outburst that occurred around 2 p.m. EDT on May 9, 2024


“Geomagnetic storms can impact infrastructure in near-Earth orbit and on the Earth’s surface, potentially disrupting communications, power grids, navigation, radio and satellite operations,” NOAA said. “[The Space Weather Prediction Center] has notified the operators of these systems so that they can take protective measures.”

NOAA said this is the first time a storm watch has been issued for a G4 since January 2005. There are an average of 100 severe geomagnetic storms per solar cycle, but so far only three have been observed in the most recent cycle that began in December 2019. The most recent occurred on March 23. The last time a G5 or extreme geomagnetic storm occurred was in October 2003, when it caused power outages in Sweden and damaged transformers in South Africa.

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