Major Magnetic Storm on Sun to ‘Bombard’ Earth on Saturday, Scientists Warn
15:54 GMT 29.10.2021 (Updated: 17:01 GMT 29.10.2021)
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Centre issued a geomagnetic storm warning on Friday in the wake of a powerful Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) event on Thursday, which released clouds of supercharged solar particles into space in the direction of Earth.
Thursday’s massive X-class flare eruption on the Sun is expected to reach Earth on Saturday, and could wreak havoc on a range of manmade solar radiation-sensitive devices, the X-Ray Astronomy of the Sun Lab at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Physics has warned.
“One of the largest and perhaps the largest burst of solar activity in recent years is currently taking place on our Sun. Over the past day, fourteen flares, including two M-class flares (strong) and one maximum X-class flare (especially strong) have been recorded,” the Lab said in a statement on Friday.
Researchers explained that nearly all of the flares were recorded in one area of the Sun, known as region number 2887, where powerful emissions of magnetic fields and the formation of about 30 sunspots took place earlier in the week.
Pointing to the Sun’s current position, estimated by scientists to be near the low point of the solar cycle of magnetic activity (which means that the star is not supposed to be able to produce extremely large flares), the lab characterised the flaring witnessed on Thursday as “unusually large.”
“To demonstrate the extraordinary nature of what’s taken place, it can be noted that over the past four years, since 2018, only two X-class flares, including Thursday’s, have been recorded. All other events were of a lesser magnitude,” scientists indicated.
The X-Ray Astronomy of the Sun Lab warned that Earth should brace for “almost the maximum impact that a flash of such force can inflict,” and pointed out that since Thursday, Earth-based space monitoring instrumentation has already picked up streams of highly charged particles ejected by the Sun bombarding the planet’s atmosphere.
“The main blow to the Earth will come when plasma clouds containing the main kinetic energy of a solar explosion reach it. It is expected that the first contact of Earth’s magnetic field with plasma…will occur at about 10 am Moscow time on 30 October [about 7 am GMT, or 3 am EST],” the lab estimates.
Scientists expect the plasma clouds to hit the atmosphere at about 800 km per second, with its impact “launching large magnetic storms on a planetary scale,” and Earth affected by the bombardment for about one-and-a-half to two days, “during which time it will probably experience almost continuous geomagnetic disturbances of varying intensity.”
9 October 2021, 12:25 GMT
The lab noted that the storm may result in the need to correct voltage in various electrical systems, and cause an accumulation of surface charges on orbiting spacecraft, potentially causing them to drift from their orbits. The latter, plus the flare’s impact on radio waves, could in turn lead to interruptions in satellite navigation, and low frequency radio-based navigation, as well as HF radio-based communication.
Dr. Sergei Kuzin, the X-Ray Astronomy of the Sun Lab’s chief scientist, says that the power of a geomagnetic storm as it affects our planet is not directly correlated to the strength of the solar flare, but depends on a range of factors including the flare’s impulse, and the solar plasma’s magnetic configuration.
“There are two factors: the impact on the technosphere (but today even much more powerful storms are countered effectively) and the impact on the well-being of human beings, where there are a lot of factors determined less on magnetic loads and more on psychosomatics. A single ride in the metro is equivalent to that of a strong magnetic storm. How many of us suffer from it?" Kuzin explained, speaking to Sputnik.
The academic noted that animals which may be affected more seriously by the solar storm than humans include as migratory birds, who determine their routes on the basis of magnetic fields.
Earlier on Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Centre issued a “G3 [Strong] geomagnetic storm watch” for 30 October, indicating that power systems, spacecraft and radio and navigation equipment may be affected, causing voltage irregularities, false alarms on some protection devices, orientation problems for spacecraft, and a supercharged Aurora Borealis visible in states as far south as Pennsylvania, Iowa and Oregon. The watchdog expects a G2 (moderate) storm to continue on 31 October.
The magnetic field generated by the perpetual sloshing around of hot molten metal around Earth’s iron core generally protects us against solar storms and bursts of deadly solar rays.
In 2019, scientists from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were forced to update the coordinates of the magnetic North Pole ahead of schedule after discovering
that it was moving away from the Canadian Arctic and toward Russia’s Siberia at an alarming rate. The find prompted some scientists to speculate that the magnetic north and south poles may be preparing to flip – an eventuality that could lead to a temporary, but potentially catastrophic, weakening of the magnetic field.
Even under ordinary conditions, with the magnetic field intact, humanity remains vulnerable to sudden bursts of powerful solar radiation. In 2011, US academics warned that a repeat of a solar storm similar to that which hit Earth in 1859 could cause as much as two trillion dollars in initial damage, knocking out power grids, satellites, navigations systems and other sensitive manmade technologies.
15 September 2021, 12:13 GMT
29 October 2021, 15:54 GMT