A massive solar flare is set to hit Earth today, authorities are warning – potentially disrupting power grids and bringing the Northern Lights as far south as New York City.
The eruption – officially known as coronal mass ejection (CME) – was observed on Saturday from the side of the sun directly facing our planet and occurs as we enter a period of increased solar activity.
An alert was issued by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) which warned that the geomagnetic storm could cause fluctuations in the power grid with voltage alarms at higher latitudes, where the Earth is more exposed .
NOAA added that the satellites could also be affected and could have “orientation irregularities,” meaning ground control would have to redirect them, along with anything in low earth orbit that experiences increased drag. .
The geomagnetic storm could reach category G2, which is moderately strong according to the agency.
“Event analysis and model release suggest the arrival of CME around noon on October 11, with effects lingering through October 12,” he added, with noon in the United States signifying the end of afternoon and early evening in UK.
The Met Office said: “Aurora is made possible by [the] 11th over much of Scotland although the amount of cloud is increasing meaning sightings are unlikely.
“There is a slight chance that auroras will reach the far north of England and Northern Ireland tonight, but the clouds are breaking and therefore sightings are more likely in Northern Ireland,” he said. he added.
But astronomers don’t expect the eruption to cause major disruption according to the Carrington event, considered the largest solar storm on record, that hit Earth in 1859.
The Carrington event left an aurora visible in the sky, even at latitudes much closer to the equator, and has been described in contemporary reports as even brighter than the light of a full moon.
It caused telegraph systems to fail across Europe and North America, and a similar storm today could cause billions of dollars in damage around the world.
Solar activity has been observed to increase and decrease naturally every 11 years, but not quite like clockwork, and astronomers believe we are now in the first years of a new busy period.
A new family of sunspots, discovered on the surface of our star last year, triggered the biggest solar flare that scientists have seen since 2017.
There are a number of classes of solar flares, class X being considered the most intense. Saturday’s CME was an M-class event, the second strongest behind X.
It is known as the “Halo CME” because flares that head directly towards Earth can be seen as a halo around the sun.