Solar flares may cause power outages, radio signal interference

The parent planet, Earth, has been blasted by a powerful, sun-directed solar storm that could interfere with electrical and communication systems, aviation and the display of Halloween night.

The solar flare, the largest in a year and one of the most powerful solar eruptions in over five years, was directed directly at Earth. Earth was roughly one million miles from the path of the flare at the time, according to NASA.

Power outages from the flare and related radiation could pose a risk to power grids and communications, government agencies have warned.

Impact on humans

Earth has had to endure multiple instances of dangerous solar eruptions in the past, and sometimes astronauts on the International Space Station have had to contend with adverse effects.

“For geomagnetic storms, the chief threat is weaker solar plasma (meaning not the filament itself),” Alan Title, a physicist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center, told CNN in 2016.

“The weaker particles in solar plasma are most hazardous for electronics,” he said. “The flares and coronal mass ejections (from sunspots) typically interfere with GPS, communications, navigation, power, video broadcast and other satellites in low earth orbit.”

The US National Weather Service issued a geomagnetic storm watch for a strong geomagnetic storm on Monday.

A “wide swath of the planet is forecast to experience 1-3 times solar storm strength,” the NWS said.

The storms caused by solar flares are known as geomagnetic storms, and can also disrupt radio signals and power grids. However, they typically don’t pose a threat to humans, according to a NOAA report.

Comet’s collision

Several scientists have speculated that the solar flare originated in the sun’s corona or outer atmosphere, and the announcement did not clarify the origin of the flare.

North America on October 31 would be well placed to feel the brunt of the storm as space weather is known to influence the trajectory of comets that come within a few days of Earth.

Discovery of this flare was made available by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, on its Active Region Tracker.

This guide provides updates on four Active Regions (ARs) in the sun’s visible and in the northern polar regions, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center, and provides images of “an intense coronal mass ejection currently erupting from one of these Active Regions.”

The highest power, category G2, is the strongest type of solar storm and more intense than any forecast for October 31.

G2 solar storms tend to significantly affect satellites and people on Earth, according to NASA. Those aiming for the northern hemisphere will likely experience a day with a sustained aurora borealis or northern lights, the agency said.

Additional ARs also appear on weekly rankings of solar radiation storms.

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