Solar storm: NASA captures the moment a sunspot ‘explodes’
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The “near miss” is predicted to occur on Sunday, August 1, when a so-called coronal mass ejection (CME) swings past the planet. Space weather forecasters are not expecting the cloud of plasma to trigger a full-blown solar storm, however, this could change if the CME grazes the planet. CMEs are one of the primary causes of geomagnetic unrest on Earth, together with solar flares, and have the potential to disrupt technology.
According to the US space agency NASA, CMEs are large clouds of charged and magnetised particles that erupt from the Sun’s outer layer, the corona.
CMEs are cast into space at speeds of more than one million miles per hour and will occasionally be directed at Earth.
When this happens, the hot plasma takes between two and three days to reach the planet.
One such CME was observed early on Wednesday, July 28, in the Sun’s northern regions.
Solar storm forecast: A large CME erupted from the Sun and will narrowly miss Earth (Image: NASA)
Solar storm effects: The effects solar activity can have on the planet (Image: NASA)
The website SpaceWeather.com said on Thursday: “Yesterday, July 28 (7am UT), a magnetic filament in the Sun’s northern hemisphere erupted.
“The resulting CME is going to pass by Earth on August 1, barely missing our planet.
“NOAA analysts are still studying the eruption; there’s a chance the forecast will change from ‘near miss’ to ‘glancing blow’, so stay tuned.”
When CMEs flow near to our planet, they can funnel charged particles into the magnetosphere – the region of space dominated by Earth’s magnetic field.
According to NASA, the CME can “jostle Earth’s magnetic field” and create currents that direct the particles towards the poles.
The charged particles then impart energy (electrons) on atoms of oxygen and nitrogen, triggering beautiful aurora effects.
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In the Northern Hemisphere, these are the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis), and south of the equator, these are the Southern Lights (Aurora Borealis).
But there is a darker side to the CMEs striking the planet: satellite disruptions and power grid blackouts.
NASA said: “Additionally, the magnetic changes can affect a variety of human technologies.
“High-frequency radio waves can be degraded: Radios transmit static, and GPS coordinates stray by a few yards.
“The magnetic oscillations can also create electrical currents in utility grids on Earth that can overload electrical systems when power companies are not prepared.”
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Solar storm forecast: NASA example of what a CME looks like (Image: NASA)
Solar storm forecast: NASA photo of the Sun on Wednesday, July 28 (Image: NASA/SDO)
A powerful CME detected in March 1989 is believed to have triggered a major solar storm over the planet.
The storm led to the collapse of the Hydro-Québec power network in Canada, leaving more than six million people without power.
A CME was also responsible for the so-called Carrington Event of 1859.
The CME struck the magnetosphere and induced the world’s biggest solar storm on record.
The storm fried telegraph wires all over North America and Europe and the Southern Lights were seen as far as Queensland, Australia.
A 2013 report found a similar event today would cause £0.43trillion to $1.86trillion ($0.6trillion to $2.6trillion) in damages in the US alone.
It’s good news then NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center does not forecast any geomagnetic unrest in the coming days.
The SWPC’s three-day forecast on July 29 reads: “No G1 (Minor) or greater geomagnetic storms are expected.
“No significant transient or recurrent solar wind features are forecast.”
Similarly, forecasters do not predict any radio blackouts or solar radiation storms in the coming days.