Solar storm warning: Earth set for 'glancing blow' in HOURS – power grid on alert

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A huge eruption of filament from the Sun’s outer layer on May 7 has shot out a coronal mass ejection (CME) that is set to strike Earth’s magnetic field, which could spark solar storms once it arrives. A CME is a huge bubble of plasma shot out from the Sun which contains billions of tons of fast-moving solar particles as well as the magnetic field that binds them.

NOAA analysts have warned that the incoming CME might deliver a “glancing blow” to Earth’s magnetic field on May 10, with possible minor geomagnetic storms as a consequence.

Experts at Spaceweather.com report: “A magnetic filament on the sun erupted May 7th, hurling a CME into space.

“NOAA analysts say it might deliver a glancing blow to Earth’s magnetic field on May 10. 

“This is a low confidence forecast. Minor geomagnetic storms are possible if/when the CME arrives.”

Solar storm

The Earth is set for a ‘glancing blow’ from solar storms (Image: Getty )

Solar storm

A CME is a large bubble of plasma which gets shot out the Sun (Image: Getty )

US Space Weather Center (SWPC) ranks solar storms on a scale of “G1 Minor”, the least intense, all the way up to “G5 Extreme”.

Luckily, the possible incoming solar storms, which occur if there is an efficient exchange of energy from the solar wind into the space environment surrounding the Earth, are predicted to be minor.

But even the weakest of storms threaten “power-grid fluctuations” and have a “minor impact on satellite operations” if the storms come into direct contact with a satellite or power transformer, it can cause some problems back down on Earth.

At the stronger end of the scale, this is where it starts to get more dangerous.

Luckily, the possible incoming solar storms, which occur if there is an efficient exchange of energy from the solar wind into the space environment surrounding the Earth, are predicted to be minor.

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Solar storm

CME’s spark solar storms when they strike the Earth’s geomagnetic field (Image: Getty )

But when CMEs collide with Earth’s magnetosphere, “all of that extra radiation can damage the satellites we use for communications and navigation” and can “disrupt power grids that provide our electricity”, even if they are minor.

In the Met Office’s latest update at 12:17 on Wednesday, it reported that the CME could strike within 18-24 hours, but noted that solar activity has been low over the last 24 hours. 

The forecaster warned in its update: “A slightly elevated fast wind may also connect with the Earth at the same time.

“There is a chance 50 percent chance of Active or G1 Minor Storm intervals on 10 and 11 May due to these potential features.

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Satellite

Solar storms cause an impact to satellite operations (Image: Getty )

Power grid

Even minor solar storms can can cuase power grid fluctuations (Image: Getty )

“A return to Quiet or Unsettled conditions from 12 May will follow.”

The incoming CME may only spark minor storms, but experts have warned in the past that the Earth is not prepared for stronger storms, which could spark blackouts lasting days. 

The SWPC said: “During storms, the currents in the ionosphere, as well as the energetic particles that precipitate into the ionosphere add energy in the form of heat that can increase the density and distribution of density in the upper atmosphere, causing extra drag on satellites in low-earth orbit.

“The local heating also creates strong horizontal variations in the ionospheric density that can modify the path of radio signals and create errors in the positioning information provided by GPS.”

Harry Byrne

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