High-speed solar winds from a “hole” in the sun’s atmosphere are expected to hit Earth’s magnetic field on Wednesday (August 3), triggering a minor geomagnetic storm G-1.
Forecasters from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) made the prediction after observing that “gaseous material is flowing from a southern hole in the sun’s atmosphere.” according to spaceweather.com.
Coronal holes are areas of the solar upper atmosphere where the electrified gas (or plasma) of our star is cooler and less dense. These holes are also where the sun magnetic field the lines, instead of looping in on themselves, radiate outward into space. This allows solar material to gush out in a torrent that travels at speeds of up to 1.8 million miles per hour (2.9 million kilometers per hour), according to the Exploratory, a science museum in San Francisco.
Related: An ancient solar storm shattered Earth at the wrong time in the solar cycle – and scientists are worried
On planets with strong magnetic fields, like our own, this barrage of solar debris is absorbed, triggering geomagnetic storms. During these storms, Earth’s magnetic field is slightly compressed by the waves of highly energetic particles. These particles stream along magnetic field lines near the poles and agitate molecules in the atmosphere, releasing energy in the form of light to create colorful auroras, similar to those that make up the Northern Lights.
The storm produced by this debris will be weak. As a G1 geomagnetic storm, it has the potential to cause minor fluctuations in power grids and impact some satellite functions, including those of mobile devices and GPS systems. It will also bring the dawn as far south like Michigan and Maine.
More extreme geomagnetic storms can disrupt our planet’s magnetic field enough to send satellites falling to earthLive Science previously reported, and scientists warned that extreme geomagnetic storms could even cripple the internet. Debris that springs from the sun, or coronal mass ejections (CME), typically takes about 15 to 18 hours to reach Earth, depending on the Space Weather Prediction Center.
This storm comes as the sun enters its most active phase of its approximately 11-year solar cycle.
Astronomers have known since 1775 that solar activity rises and falls in cycles, but recently the sun has been more active than expected, with nearly double the sunspot appearances predicted by NOAA. Scientists predict that the sun’s activity will increase steadily over the next few years, reaching a global maximum in 2025 before declining again. An article published on July 20 in the journal Astronomy and astrophysics proposed a new model for the sun’s activity by separately counting sunspots in each hemisphere – a method that the paper’s researchers say could be used to make more accurate solar predictions.
Scientists believe the largest solar storm ever observed in modern history was the Carrington event of 1859, which released about the same energy as 10 billion 1-megaton atomic bombs. After smashing into Earth, the powerful stream of solar particles fried telegraph systems around the world and caused auroras brighter than the light of the full moon appear as far south as the Caribbean. If a similar event were to occur today, scientists warn, it would cause billions of dollars in damage and trigger widespread blackouts, much like the 1989 solar storm that released a billion-ton gas plume and caused a power outage throughout the Canadian province of Quebec, NASA reported.
Originally posted on Live Science.