Third Geomagnetic Storm of 2018 Headed for Earth This Week—And It Could Be Deadly
This is probably not the news you wanted to start your week with, but they say that knowledge is power, so consider this our attempt to make you more powerful. According to the Russian Academy of Sciences, there is a massive geomagnetic storm set to hit Earth on March 18. In addition to disrupting telecommunications systems, geomagnetic storms have the potential to affect human beings and other living things, changing the way our blood flows, causing dizziness, and interrupting our sleep patterns.
For any of this to make sense, you should probably understand what a geomagnetic storm is.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) here in the United States, 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." They have been fairly common as of late, with the March 18 storm being the third already in 2018, but some are larger than others.
"The possibility of an extreme CME causing a very powerful geomagnetic storm is real," Doug Biesecker of the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center, told Astrowatch.net back in 2016. While the possibility is real, Biesecker added that scientists don't really know when the big ones are coming. "There's considerable uncertainty to how frequent such storms are at the level where we worry about huge impacts on the power grid and the resulting impacts that a lack of electricity would have. Is it a 1 in 50, 1 in 100, or 1 in 1,000 year event? We just don't know."
Engineers are reportedly "advised" to prepare for hiccups with the grid and to shut down some non-essential equipment during storms just in case. A million miles away from Earth is NOAA/NASA's Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) which (among other things) acts as the canary in the cold mine, letting scientists know when a magnetic field approaches. So at least when a big one hits, it's not a complete shock.