High-speed solar winds from a "hole" in the sun's atmosphere are set to
hit Earth's magnetic field on Wednesday (Aug 3.), triggering a minor G-1
Forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space
Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) made the prediction after observing that
"gaseous material is flowing from a southern hole in the sun's
atmosphere," according to spaceweather.com
Coronal holes are areas in the sun's upper atmosphere where our star's
electrified gas (or plasma) is cooler and less dense. Such holes are also
where the sun's magnetic field lines, instead of looping back in on
themselves, beam outward into space. This enables solar material to surge
out in a torrent that travels at speeds up to 1.8 million miles per hour
(2.9 million kilometers per hour), according to the Exploratorium, a
science museum in San Francisco.
Related: Ancient solar storm smashed Earth at the wrong part of the sun's
cycle — and scientists are concerned
On planets with strong magnetic fields, like our own, this barrage of
solar debris is absorbed, triggering geomagnetic storms. During these
storms, Earth's magnetic field gets compressed slightly by the waves of
highly energetic particles. These particles trickle down magnetic-field
lines near the poles and agitate molecules in the atmosphere, releasing
energy in the form of light to create colorful auroras, similar to the
ones that make up the Northern Lights.
The storm produced by this debris will be weak. As a G1 geomagnetic storm,
it has the potential to cause minor fluctuations in power grids and impact
some satellite functions — including those for mobile devices and GPS
systems. It will also bring the aurora as far south as Michigan and Maine.
More extreme geomagnetic storms can disrupt our planet's magnetic field
powerfully enough to send satellites tumbling to Earth, Live Science
previously reported, and scientists have warned that extreme geomagnetic
storms could even cripple the internet. Debris that erupts from the sun,
or coronal mass ejections (CMEs), usually takes around 15 to 18 hours to
reach Earth, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center.
This storm comes as the sun ramps up into its most active phase of its
roughly 11 year-long solar cycle.
Astronomers have known since 1775 that solar activity rises and falls in
cycles, but recently, the sun has been more active than expected, with
nearly double the sunspot appearances predicted by NOAA. Scientists
anticipate that the sun's activity will steadily climb for the next few
years, reaching an overall maximum in 2025 before decreasing again. A
paper published July 20 in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics proposed
a new model for the sun's activity by separately counting sunspots in each
hemisphere — a method the paper's researchers argue could be used to make
more accurate solar forecasts.
Scientists think the largest solar storm ever witnessed during
contemporary history was the 1859 Carrington Event, which released roughly
the same energy as 10 billion 1-megaton atomic bombs. After slamming into
Earth, the powerful stream of solar particles fried telegraph systems all
over the world and caused auroras brighter than the light of the full moon
to appear as far south as the Caribbean. If a similar event were to happen
today, scientists warn, it would cause trillions of dollars in damage and
trigger widespread blackouts, much like the 1989 solar storm that released
a billion-ton plume of gas and caused a blackout across the entire
Canadian province of Quebec, NASA reported.
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