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Warning As Solar Storm 'Snowplows' Past Earth And Could Disrupt Power Grid

Daisy Phillipson

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Warning As Solar Storm 'Snowplows' Past Earth And Could Disrupt Power Grid

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

A massive solar flare 'snowplowed' past earth earlier last week, sparking a geomagnetic storm powerful enough to potentially impact power grids.

Solar flares, known as a coronal mass ejections (CME), are enormous expulsions of plasma from the sun’s outer layer.

Last Friday (1 July), a CME passed our planet, and while it did not make impact, the flare 'snowplowed some dense solar wind plasma in our direction', according to SpaceWeather.com.

Experts at the site explained that this was enough to 'spark a G1-class geomagnetic storm with auroras across many northern-tier US states'.

The G-1 geomagnetic storm caused auroras in a number of northern US states. Credit: Rocky Raybell/SpaceWeather.com
The G-1 geomagnetic storm caused auroras in a number of northern US states. Credit: Rocky Raybell/SpaceWeather.com

According to the NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center, a G1-class geomagnetic storm won't impact human health, but it can cause minor disruption to power grids and satellite operations.

It's also powerful enough to spark aurora borealis, aka northern lights, in the northern hemisphere.

This was evidenced by the above image shared by Rocky Raybell, showing the incredible phenomenon in Keller, Washington, following the recent CME.

In a new update on the interstellar activity, SpaceWeather.com added: "NOAA forecasters say there is a chance of minor G1-class geomagnetic storm on July 6th when a stream of solar wind is expected to hit Earth's magnetic field.

"The gaseous material is flowing from a cyclops-like hole in the sun's atmosphere."

A CME caused dense solar wind plasma to 'snowplow' in our direction. Credit: Alamy
A CME caused dense solar wind plasma to 'snowplow' in our direction. Credit: Alamy

Just to put your mind at rest, G-1 is the weakest of geomagnetic storms. And while the most extreme G-5 events are extremely rare, if one were to occur, it would create chaos in our daily lives.

As said by the NOAA, a G-5 would cause 'widespread voltage control problems and protective system problems', with some grid systems experiencing 'complete collapse or blackouts'.

Geomagnetic storms are a result of CMEs colliding with or coming close to our planet, causing disruption to its magnetic field.

Thomas Berger, a solar physicist in Boulder, home of NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, previously explained to NBC News about how earth's magnetic field protects it from the sun's energy.

However, sometimes the sun overpowers this layer and solar wind is able to charge the upper atmosphere with electricity.

Berger said: "That’s when the power grids start to feel things.

"When you create a giant current in the ionosphere, you also create currents in the ground. And the power grid is anchored in the Earth - grounded, as they call it.

"In the worst-case scenario, the CME would damage equipment, which would need to be replaced before you can bring power back to the grid."

Topics: Space, World News, Science

Daisy Phillipson
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