‘Severe’ solar storm could trigger Northern Lights as far south as Alabama Friday night

The sun is crackling with sunspot energy, and one in particular has roared to life.

NOAA has upgraded a geomagnetic solar storm watch from a level 3 (“moderate”) to a level 4 (“severe”) on Thursday as several solar flares hurtle toward Earth and are expected to combine. That could grace the northern tier skies with brilliant auroras but also trigger GPS problems, hamper satellite communication, and cause blackouts of high-frequency radio.

“Watches at this level are very rare,” NOAA stated in the watch.

Sunspots merged

Over the past 24 hours, two massive sunspots have merged and spit out two X-class (largest) and several M-class (second-largest) solar flares. The explosive acceleration of charged and super heated plasma, known as a coronal mass ejection or CME, speeds through space and expands, according to NOAA.

WHAT IS A GEOMAGNETIC STORM?

Another sun spot let loose strong CMEs this week and continues to be active. The bulk of a total of four CMEs will collide with Earth in a glancing blow early Saturday, said NOAA.

“These two sunspot clusters are magnetically complex and much larger than Earth. Together they have been the source of frequent M-class flares (minor to moderate),” stated the Space Weather Prediction Center. “RGN 3664 (the combined sunspot region) continues to grow and increase in magnetic complexity and has evolved into a higher threat of increased solar flare risk. Therefore, M-class flares are expected, with an increasing chance of X-class flares (moderate) over the next several days.”

How flares can set off geomagnetic storms

“Flares are when the sun brightens, and we see the radiation, and that’s kind of the muzzle flash,” explained Professor Peter Becker of George Mason University in an earlier interview. “And then the cannon shot is the coronal mass ejection (CME). So, we can see the flash, but then the coronal mass ejection can go off in some random direction in space, but we can tell when they’re actually going to head towards Earth. And that gives us about 18 hours of warning, maybe 24 hours of warning, before those particles actually get to Earth and start messing with Earth’s magnetic field.”

SOLAR SUPERSTORM COULD ‘WIPE OUT THE INTERNET’ FOR WEEKS OR MONTHS, SCIENTIST SAYS

NOAA warns of a wide area blackout of high frequency radio communications for hours. The geomagnetic storm could also cause widespread voltage irregularities in power systems which trigger false alarms on security devices, cause drag on low earth orbit satellites preventing them from orienting and cause range errors and a loss-of-lock for GPS systems.

Residents as far south as northern California, Oklahoma, Alabama and Virginia could see the Northern Lights.

Forecasters estimate these conditions occur for about 60 days total over any given 11-year solar cycle.

HOW TO WATCH FOX WEATHER

X-class solar flares are the largest explosions in the solar system. According to NASA, the biggest X-class flares can produce as much energy as 1 billion atomic bombs. M-class are the second-strongest flares that can cause minor radiation storms and can harm astronauts.

The solar cycle is peaking making solar storms more plentiful

Tree rings and ice cores are evidence of much larger solar superstorms in the past.

In 1859, the great Carrington Event, generally regarded as Earth’s greatest solar storm in recent history, covered nearly the entire planet in aurora.  About 14,000 years ago, a solar flare, possibly hundreds of times stronger than the Carrington flare, impacted Earth.

THE HISTORY OF EARTH’S GREATEST SOLAR STORMS

NOAA forecasts the current 11-year solar cycle to peak sometime in 2024 or early 2025 and solar activity is likely to remain active for the next several months or even few years.

NOAA PREDICTS STRONGER PEAK OF SOLAR ACTIVITY IN 2024 THAN ORIGINALLY ANTICIPATED

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