Solar Storm to Hit Earth Today Causing GPS and Radio Disruption

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A geomagnetic storm is expected to surge across the Earth’s atmosphere later today as a plume of solar plasma hits our planet.

This chunk of the sun was spat out on Sunday as a magnetic filament erupted from the star’s surface, with the coronal mass ejection (CME) set to collide with the Earth at around 1 p.m. ET, according to models by both NASA and NOAA.

The CME collision could lead to geomagnetic storms as intense as G2-class or even G3-class, which may trigger GPS issues, satellite problems, and auroras seen much further south than usual.

“Direct Hit! An impressive #solarstorm launch in the Earth-strike zone means a new chance for #aurora by midday Jan 22. We could see a G2-G3 with this one if the magnetic field of the storm is oriented correctly. Amateur radio & #GPS users, expect disruptions on Earth’s nightside,” space weather physicist Tamitha Skov posted on X, formerly Twitter, on Sunday.

NASA image of the sun spitting out a CME on Sunday, circled in white. The CME is due to hit Earth on Monday, triggering a geomagnetic storm.
NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory/SDO

CMEs are triggered by magnetic activity on the sun’s surface flinging out huge volumes of solar plasma. This cloud, if aimed toward the Earth, approaches our planet in around 48 to 72 hours, though some can arrive much sooner. When the plume collides with the Earth’s magnetic field, it can cause disturbances that trigger a geomagnetic storm.

Geomagnetic storms are measured on a scale of their strength, from G1 (minor) to G5 (extreme), according to NOAA. The strength of the storm depends on the power of the CME that triggers it, with more powerful storms being rarer: per 11-year solar cycle, the Earth can expect around 1700 G1 storms, but only about 100 G4 storms and a mere 4 G5 storms during that same period.

The upcoming solar storm is expected to be G2, with a chance of G3, which can result in several strange impacts across Earth. Power grids may experience voltage problems, radio wave transmissions can be scrambled, and satellites orbiting close to the Earth may see increased drag, requiring orbit adjustments.

“Whilst these storms cannot harm us or nature directly, they are disruptive and potentially very damaging to technology,” Huw Morgan, head of the Solar Physics group at Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom, told Newsweek. “Electric currents are induced in Earth’s crust, and this can cause surges and damage to power grids. Communications can be disrupted, and GPS navigation. Air flights at high latitudes are prone to radiation doses, requiring cancellation or rerouting. And there’s a danger to satellites and astronauts.”

More powerful geomagnetic storms can also cause auroras to be seen further and further south from the North Pole: G3 storms may result in the Northern Lights being visible from Illinois and Oregon, while G5 storms can lead to the aurora being spotted as far south as Florida and southern Texas.

This is because the plasma reacts with charged particles in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing them to react with gases like nitrogen and oxygen and making them glow.

“The magnetic disruption penetrates further into Earth’s magnetosphere, and a larger amount of space plasma is injected into Earth’s system, and this can also reach lower latitudes,” Morgan said. “This energetic plasma interacts with molecules in Earth’s atmosphere, causing the lights. In a very large storm in 1859 (the Carrington event), the lights were seen at the equator and were very bright.”

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