Severe solar storm to hit Earth; major power outages, flights rerouting likely | World News - Hindustan Times
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Severe solar storm to hit Earth; major power outages, flights rerouting likely

May 10, 2024 07:40 PM IST

The US Space Weather Prediction Center has issued a rare G4 Geomagnetic Storm Watch due to an impending solar storm, the first of its kind since 2005.

A severe solar storm expected to hit Earth this weekend has prompted the US Space Weather Prediction Center to issue a rare Severe (G4) Geomagnetic Storm Watch, the second-highest on a five-step scale. This storm, the first of its kind since January 2005, poses significant threats including blackouts, disruptions to navigation systems, and interference with high-frequency radios worldwide.

A severe solar storm this weekend threatens to trigger blackouts, disrupt navigation systems and knock out high-frequency radios around the world.(Representational image/Reuters/SOHO/Nasa)
A severe solar storm this weekend threatens to trigger blackouts, disrupt navigation systems and knock out high-frequency radios around the world.(Representational image/Reuters/SOHO/Nasa)

Trans-polar flights between Europe, Asia, and North America are expected to be rerouted to minimise radiation exposure for passengers and crew members, reported Bloomberg.

“Watches at this level are very rare,” the Space Weather Prediction Center said.

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This heightened state of alert comes as multiple waves of solar energy are set to impact the planet. Five eruptions of material from the sun's atmosphere are predicted to arrive starting late on Friday and persist through Sunday. The storm’s true power will be known about 60 to 90 minutes before it hits Earth as satellites measure inbound bursts of energy, according to Bloomberg.

Coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, are explosive events on the sun's surface involving the release of plasma and magnetic fields from its corona. When these CMEs are directed towards Earth, they can induce geomagnetic storms. Such storms have the capacity to impact various systems, both in near-Earth orbit and on the planet's surface. This includes the potential disruption of communications, the electric power grid, navigation, radio, and satellite operations.

While individuals are shielded by Earth's magnetic field, unprepared electric grids face the risk of disruption, pipelines may become charged with current, and spacecraft could be knocked off course. The last time Earth experienced a G5 storm – the worst on the scale – was in October 2003, resulting in power outages in Sweden and damage to transformers in South Africa.

Geomagnetic storms have also the potential to produce awe-inspiring displays of auroras in Earth's atmosphere. With the severity of the current geomagnetic storm watch, there exists the possibility for auroras, often called the Northern Lights, to be visible as far south as Alabama and Northern California, according to the US agency. Regions across Asia and Europe with sufficiently dark and clear skies may witness spectacular displays of auroras. The UK Met Office expects the aurora to be visible across the entire United Kingdom.

(With inputs from Bloomberg)

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