Perhaps you’ve heard; a solar storm is on the way.
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If much of the news coverage is to be believed, the coming solar storm is “massive” and could “cause power outages” because of “equinox cracks” that have appeared in Earth’s magnetic field, leaving us vulnerable.
But that’s not the full story.
In fact, at best, it’s a serious misunderstanding of the facts, and at worse, it’s a purposeful sensationalization of a pretty average solar event.
“This is just garbage, quite frankly,” Robert Rutledge, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), said of the coverage around this solar storm, in an interview. Rutledge went on to say that he’s unsure what “equinox cracks” are, and that the SWPC doesn’t use that term.
A solar storm is actually expected to impact the Earth from March 14 to March 15, but it certainly isn’t massive.
The storm, known as a “G1” geomagnetic storm, is actually the most minor of these types of solar storms, and it likely won’t create any of the serious issues mentioned in many news articles published over the course of the past couple days.
The sun is actually pretty quiet at the moment.
According to the SWPC, it’s possible that the solar storm — which will occur when charged particles from the sun interacting with Earth’s magnetic field — will cause “weak power grid fluctuations” and may have a “minor impact on satellite operations.”
That’s a far cry from the serious power outages touted by some.
G1 is the lowest-severity geomagnetic storm on a scale of five. Moderate storms, known as G2 storms, are somewhat more intense than G1 events, though still not a huge cause for concern. Severe G4 and extreme G5 storms are the really concerning geomagnetic events that could cause major power problems on Earth and on satellites in space.
“Widespread voltage control problems and protective system problems can occur, some grid systems may experience complete collapse or blackouts,” the SWPC said in an explanation of a G5 storm. “Transformers may experience damage.”
That said, one potentially cool effect from the coming G1 solar storm may be in the form of charged up auroras.
The SWPC says that the northern lights could be seen as far south as Maine and Michigan thanks to the stream of charged particles heading our way.
Those particles can be dragged down into Earth’s upper atmosphere, where they interact with neutral particles, making them glow and look like dancing ribbons of light in the sky.
Just because this storm isn’t up to the hype doesn’t mean that solar storms in general should be ignored.
A truly massive solar storm, which would likely be caused by charged particles from a solar eruption sent out toward Earth, could, in fact, knock out parts of the electrical grid for months at a time.
One major solar storm, now called the Carrington Event, struck the planet in 1859 and reportedly knocked out telegraph systems all around the world.