NASA officials on Wednesday warned that additional solar storms may be headed for Earth, the latest string of disruptions to hit in recent months.
A pair of CMEs en route to Earth could add to the effect of the solar wind stream, igniting even brighter auroras during the next 24-48 hours. NOAA forecasters estimate a 40 percent chance of geomagnetic storms on by May 11. A geomagnetic storm could be the major impact from these coronal mass ejections. This could lead to disruptions to high-frequency radio communications, GPS, and power grids. The peak of this storm looks to hit early Thursday morning and gradually diminish by Friday morning.
Much of the planet’s electronic equipment, as well as orbiting satellites, have been built to withstand these periodic geomagnetic storms. But the world is still not prepared for a truly damaging solar storm, scientists warn.
The solar storm is thought to be the byproduct of a massive sunspot complex, known as AR 1476, according to NASA scientists. Scientists with NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory mission, a space-based telescope watching the sun, dubbed the solar structure a “monster sunspot” in a Twitter announcement.
The giant sunspot first appeared over the weekend, and was estimated to be more than 60,000 miles wide; by comparison, the Earth’s equator is a little less than 25,000 miles long all the way around.
The prediction comes from the Space Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which launched the center in late 2011 in an effort to better predict and track solar storms.
“This advanced model has strengthened forecasters’ understanding of what happens in the 93 million miles between Earth and the sun following a solar disturbance,” said Tom Bogdan, director of NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement at the time. “It will help power grid and communications technology managers know what to expect so they can protect infrastructure and the public.”
The sun goes through an 11-year cycle when solar flares can be as little as one a week, to several a day when at its strongest.
The highest concentration of protons ever directly measured occurred in 2005, when a giant sunspot named NOAA 720 hurled a billion-ton cloud of electrified gas into space. The explosion accelerated the cloud at roughly one third the speed of light, reaching earth in just 15 minutes.