'Explosive' Solar Flare Storm Approaching Earth Could Cause Trillions in Damage to Power Grid
Stargazers are in for a rare double-feature today: not only do they have the chance to watch a partial solar eclipse, a recent solar flare will ensure that the auroras across the world will be especially beautiful—and bathe the Earth in a solar storm that could disrupt satellite signals and mess with the power grid.
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory Satellite observed a coronal mass ejection (or CME) this past Sunday, also known as a solar flare. According to the Space Weather Prediction Center, CMEs are "huge explosions of magnetic field and plasma from the Sun’s corona. When CMEs impact the Earth’s magnetosphere, they are responsible for geomagnetic storms and enhanced aurora.”
The fallout from the CME will hit the Earth today around 8:25 PM ET, about six hours after the partial solar eclipse begins. Though the eclipse will be mainly visible to those in South America, parts of the world in the northern latitudes, including Michigan and Maine, might be able to see the solar flare's effect on the auroras.
NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has marked this storm as a G1, the lowest on its geomagnetic storm scale.
The projected effects include "weak power grid fluctuations" and "minor impact on satellite communications." Still, even a small flare is still incredibly powerful—NASA has called solar flares "our solar system’s largest explosive events."
The power of solar flares is probably best exemplified in the 1859 Carrington Event, when a geomagnetic storm knocked out telegraph lines and created auroras as far south as Honolulu and Cuba.
If such a storm struck the Earth today, the result would be catastrophic: "Imagine large cities without power for a week, a month, or a year," according to Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado. "The losses could be $1 to $2 trillion, and the effects could be felt for years."
But the geomagnetic apocalypse isn't happening today—today we have a nice partial solar eclipse and a small solar storm. Enjoy the auroras!