This week has been particularly wrought with solar storms hitting the Earth. A minor solar flare that lasted for six hours popped up Monday night, and a more intense solar flare arrived on Wednesday.
Now a couple of solar storms are hitting the earth right as we speak. This all sounds pretty scary, like the prologue to a post-apocalyptic movie. But before we all lose our cool, what does this mean exactly?
The flares are coming from a sunspot called AR2518 currently facing the Earth. The flares from Monday and Wednesday have released magnetic fields called coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, which contain billions of tons of energetic hydrogen and helium ions. The first storm hit the Earth on Thursday, and the second, stronger storm is expected to hit Friday afternoon or evening.
Right now, a G2 moderate level storm is underway, and it's possible that a strong G3 level storm will occur on Saturday, Sept. 13, according to NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center. NOAA has issued a "G3 (Strong) Geomagnetic Storm Watch" for that day as well. The Space Weather Prediction Center has classified this second flare as an "X-class," which is at the higher end of the scale. However, it's actually quite common for CMEs to hit Earth, but if they're strong enough, they can cause geomagnetic storms, radio blackouts and power grid problems, Space.com reports.
One of the solar flares may indicate that the Sunspot AR2518 may be breaking up. AR2518 is the size of about 10 to 20 Earths, according to Space.com.
What's also interesting about these solar flares is that it's rare for two CMEs to hit Earth at around the same time, the Space Weather Prediction Center's Director Thomas Berger said. Scientists aren't exactly sure what to expect from this phenomena. The biggest concern in terms of electronics would be a loss of power, but the storms will not be enough to cause a blackout, said William Murtagh, the Space Weather Prediction Center's program coordinator.
A positive outcome of the solar storms, at least in a superficial sense, is that the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, may be visible along the U.S.-Canada border and New England on Friday night in cities such as Seattle, Minneapolis and Burlington, Vt. So no matter what the outcome of the solar storms is, at least some of us will have something pretty to look at.