Biggest solar storm in 5 years hits Earth
WASHINGTON A STRONG geomagnetic storm hit Earth early on Thursday, but the planet’s magnetic field appeared to be absorbing the shock and it was unlikely to reach severe levels, US experts said.
The storm was nevertheless expected to be the strongest in five years and has the potential to disrupt global positioning systems, airline flights, satellites and power grids, NASA and other US agencies warned.
The leading edge of the coronal mass ejection — a burst of hot plasma and charged particles — that erupted from the Sun early Wednesday reached Earth on Thursday at 1045 GMT (5:45 am Eastern time in the United States), said an update from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Predictions that the storm would reach a level three on a scale of five, or a “strong” level of solar radiation and geomagnetic storming, continue to “look justified,” the NOAA said.
“So far the orientation of the magnetic field has been opposite of what is needed to cause the strongest storming.
As the event progresses, that field will continue to change.” NASA had forecast late Wednesday that the storm could reach “severe” levels, and its effects were expected to last through Friday.
The storm is likely “the strongest one since December 2006,” NOAA scientist Joseph Kunches said on Wednesday.
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station were not expected to be affected by the radiation storm, NASA said.
Experts on space weather were to give an update on the storm’s effects later on Thursday.
Geomagnetic and radiation storms are growing more frequent as the Sun leaves its solar minimum period and moves into a solar maximum over the coming years, but people are generally protected by Earth’s magnetic field.
However, some experts are concerned that because the world is more reliant on GPS and satellite technology now than it was during the last solar maximum, more disruptions to modern life are likely.