Impending Geomagnetic Storm Could Wipe Out Earth's Satellites and Power Grid
It's like Y2K all over again, except this time the force that could supposedly leave the planet in the dark is from space and not a coding bug in our computer systems. An impending geomagnetic storm on Friday, January 19 could wipe out Earth's power grids and satellite systems.
"A geomagnetic storm is a major disturbance of Earth's magnetosphere that occurs when there is a very efficient exchange of energy from the solar wind into the space environment surrounding Earth," says the NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center.
"While the storms create beautiful aurora, they also can disrupt navigation systems such as the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and create harmful geomagnetic induced currents (GICs) in the power grid and pipelines."
Power geomagnetic storms can also expose high altitude pilots to increased levels of radiation, disrupt radio signals, and throw off GPS systems. So is it time to panic and run to the nearest fallout shelter? Not exactly.
This Friday's storm is classified as a G1, which is categorized as "minor" according to the NOAA. The likelihood of a G1 crippling our systems for any significant amount of time is slim, but fluctuations are possible.
G1 geomagnetic storms are more common than "extreme" G5s (about 1700 times every 11 years, compared to just four times per solar cycle).
There is no way to predict exactly when the storms will hit, but scientists can predict when fast solar winds will sweep Earth's magnetic field (Coronal Mass Ejections), which are what cause the storms.
The NOAA Space Weather Prediction Centre sends out alerts for geomagnetic storms on its Facebook page, so in the event that a more serious G5 is on the way, we will know and will hopefully be prepared for it.