Are Solar Storms Dangerous to People on Earth? About the Effects, including Possible Communication Disruption

The solar storm actually has the ability to trigger the northern lights, resulting in a spectacular display of colors visible from across the US.

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A rare solar storm is heading towards Earth.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has issued a rare G4 geomagnetic storm watch, marking the first storm of this magnitude in nearly 20 years.

The storm follows days of solar flares that sent bursts of plasma and magnetic fields toward Earth, prompting a watch that could trigger flashing lights displays and communications outages as a result of the events in space.

NOAA used its Space Weather Scale to communicate the storm’s intensity to the public. The tool describes current and future environmental disturbances of three types: geomagnetic storms, solar radiation storms and radio blackouts.

Related: Solar Storm Could Spark Northern Lights as Far South as Alabama – How to Photograph Them with Your Phone

The G4 geomagnetic storm is actually described as “severe,” the second strongest magnitude on the scale (just below G5: “major”). The scale also details the potential effects at each level, as well as how the events occur and the severity of the physical causes.

There are three areas, on earth and in space, that may see effects from geomagnetic storms: power systems, spacecraft operations and other systems such as satellite navigation or radio frequency interference.

Effects that fall under the “other systems” area include the visibility of aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights. The clarity and visibility of the rare colorful sight depends on the category of the storm.

Read on to learn more about the 2024 solar storm watch, as well as its effects on Earth.

What is a geomagnetic storm?

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Illustration of a massive coronal mass affecting the Earth’s atmosphere.

The NOAA describes geomagnetic storms as “major disturbances in the Earth’s magnetosphere that occur when there is a highly efficient exchange of energy from the solar wind into the space environment around Earth.”

In simple terms, this storm is a disturbance of the Earth’s upper atmosphere. It’s caused in part by solar flares, which NASA describes as “intense flashes of radiation coming from the release of magnetic energy associated with sunspots.”

This particular storm also caused coronal mass eruptions (CMEs), or plasma and magnetic fields from the sun’s corona to move rapidly to Earth due to solar winds. Storms can last for several days, but mostly fall between 12 and 48 hours.

Related: Here’s How the Jupiter-Uranus Conjunction Will Affect You, Based on Your Zodiac Sign

When will the solar storm hit the United States?

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A close-up representation of our solar system’s star in 3D. Nebular gases erupting from the surface of the Sun.

NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center issued the solar storm watch for the night of May 9. However, the G4 “severe” geomagnetic storm is predicted to buffet Earth on the evening of May 10th and last through May 12th.

A watch alert for a geomagnetic storm of this magnitude has not been issued by the agency since January 2005. The alert came after “at least five flares of CMEs that appear to be focused on Earth,” according to a NOAA report .

Will the solar storm affect us on Earth?

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Fortunately, people have nothing to worry about with the storm solar watch in effect. Despite its formidable size, NASA emphasizes that harmful radiation from solar flares “cannot pass through the Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect people on the ground.”

However, the G4 storm is considered “severe” because it is capable of causing technological issues and possible communication disruptions on Earth. (Note, these storms are maximum G5 storms and may have different effects as a result.)

Possible consequences of a G4 storm include power system complications such as “widespread voltage regulation problems,” as noted by NOAA. In addition, “some protection systems will mistakenly trip key assets from the grid.”

Spacecraft operations may experience surface charging and tracking problems,” the agency writes, adding, “orientation problems may require corrections.” Other disruptions to Earth’s terrain may affect for satellite navigation and low frequency radio.

Related: 4.8 Magnitude Earthquake in New Jersey Jolts East Coast — Here’s the Latest

Could the solar storm trigger the Northern Lights?

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Solar storms could trigger the Northern Lights. Although this does not technically have an impact on Earth, people will benefit from this amazing display from planet earth.

However, the visibility of the lights – also known as aurora borealis – depends on several factors, one of which is location on Earth. Many parts of the United States will have the opportunity to see a “spectacular display of aurora”.

Generally, the northern lights are best viewed from high northern latitudes during the winter in Alaska, Canada and Scandinavia. This storm is predicted to be visible from Northern California and southern states like Alabama, according to the NOAA scale.

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