A geomagnetic storm is expected to hit Earth on Saturday after the Sun projected millions of tons of ionized gas from one of five sunspot clusters on Thursday night and could affect GPS signals, satellites and the power grid. The solar storm could also trigger geomagnetic activity that could make the Northern Lights visible as far south as New York’s Hudson Valley.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Solar Dynamics Observatory has captured a “major solar flare” erupting from the Sun. The U.S. space agency said on Friday that the Sun issued an X1-class flare on Thursday. “POW! The sun has just produced a powerful eruption,” Nasa tweeted.
NASA says Class X designates the strongest eruptions, while the number provides more information about its strength: an X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, and so on.
When the solar flare – powerful bursts of radiation – erupted on Thursday, it caused a strong radio blackout storm, which can disrupt some high-frequency radio broadcasts and low-frequency navigation.
Spaceweather.com reported that the eruption originated from a sunspot called AR2887 currently positioned in the center of the Sun and facing the Earth, depending on its location.
The US Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) said the X1-class eruption caused a temporary, but strong, radio outage on the sunny side of Earth centered over South America.
William Murtagh, director of SWPC, said that of the five sunspot clusters, those large magnetic storms that appear darker than the rest of the sun, only two are likely to cause problems for Earth. According to NASA, the X1 rocket is also expected to strike the Earth’s magnetic field on Saturday.
Harmful radiation from a solar flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to affect humans, but it can disrupt the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communication signals travel.
When these intense eruptions target Earth directly, they can also be accompanied by a massive eruption of solar particles, called coronal mass ejection. The SWPC said the X1-class impulsive eruption on Thursday “also appeared to have signatures related to coronal mass ejection.”
The wave of solar energy can also provide a celestial spectacle to sky watchers in the northern hemisphere when it hits. However, for observers along the east coast, the potential for rain on weekends can reduce viewing opportunities.
When a wave of solar energy hits the Earth’s magnetic field, it often creates an aurora at the poles. In the northern hemisphere, it is often referred to as the Northern Lights and can appear as colorful ribbons in the sky or just sparkle.
“We believe the initial impact will occur during daylight hours, so for aurora enthusiasts in the United States, we are looking at the night of 30-31 to have the best chance of seeing the dawn,” said Murtagh, quoted by Bloomberg.
The solar storm is rated G3 on the five-step scale for classifying such events, below the level at which power grid operators are concerned.