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How scientists are preparing for upcoming severe solar storms

Scientists predict that as our host star approaches solar maximum activity, severe weather on the sun’s surface could affect infrastructure on Earth and in space.

NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center Severe (G4) geomagnetic storm warning issued this weekThis is the first time since January 2005.Several strong solar flares were observed and associated with Large sunspots on the surface of the sunabout 16 times as wide as Earth.

of the sun The solar activity cycle is 11 years In which the star’s magnetic field flips back and forth; this flipping creates sunspots on the star’s surface, where the magnetic field lines are particularly strong, making them the site of dynamic, violent solar events such as flares and coronal mass ejections. These events eject particles that, when shot toward Earth, disrupt radio communications and power grids, and produce beautiful auroras when the particles interact with Earth’s atmosphere.

A view of the sun earlier today, showing prominent sunspots.

A view of the sun earlier today, showing prominent sunspots.
image: Solar Dynamics Observatory

The super-large sunspot is “probably the most complex we’ve ever seen in this cycle,” but as far as we know, the storm activity it generates is “nothing that’s unmanageable,” said space weather forecaster Sean Dahl. SWPC spoke at a press conference today. “The key point here is that critical infrastructure operators have been notified and the activity has not yet concluded.”

There have been three G4 events since 2019, the most recent in March 2024. (G5 storm), this weekend’s storm may enter the lower end of the G5 level. “We are facing a very rare event,” Dahl said.

space-based observatory L1, a point about 1 million miles from Earth, will monitor the initial arrival of particles from the Sun as they fly toward our planet at about 1.8 million miles per hour (2.9 million kilometers per hour). Once the information is verified by agencies such as NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, scientists and forecasters will have 20 to 45 minutes to advise operators of critical infrastructure on how to best prepare for the particles’ arrival.

Brent Gordon, chief of the Space Weather Services Division at the Space Weather Prediction Center, said at a news conference that the team is seeing new coronal mass ejections from sunspots every six to 12 hours, with the most recent one occurring in the early morning hours ET Around 3 o’clock.

The team said there is uncertainty about the severity of the impact on Earth, depending on the direction of the coronal mass ejection toward Earth and whether there will be multiple impacts or just a single event as the ejection leaves the sun. However, Gordon said there could be multiple shocks over the weekend.

Dahl said auroras can be seen as far south as northern Alabama, but don’t despair if you’re further south. “With the new technology in our phones, we’re seeing some amazing photos of the auroras further south,” Gordon said. “Even if the human eye can’t see things, your phone can.”

As for what the public can do to prepare? There isn’t much to do other than the usual preparations for a power outage. If a storm affects critical electrical infrastructure, it will affect high-voltage transmission lines, so there’s no need to worry about your home’s personal transformer. Just make sure (as with any emergency) that you have a standard of emergency equipment, such as a flashlight or backup generator.

more: NASA probe boldly travels through solar eruptions, revealing solar storms

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