Two federal agencies have issued warnings regarding a massive solar flare due to slam Earth sometime on Sunday, the latest solar storm to hit Earth in the last six months.
Early reports noted that the solar flare would impact Earth in the early hours of Sunday. Astronomers revised the timeline for impact, saying initial projections had a margin of error of seven hours. The flare headed towards earth at some 850 miles per second.
“As the forerunner solar wind protons continue a steady increase, indicators that the CME is on the way, the wait continues for it to impact the Earth’s magnetic field,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials wrote in an update on Saturday. “Look for that in the next few hours.”
This weekend’s solar storm originated from one of the most powerful sun flares to occur this year. The flare registered as an X1.4-class sun storm, one of the strongest flares the sun can unleash. It is the sixth X-class flare this year, and Phillip Chamberlain, an astronomer with NASA’s solar dynamics observatory, says they are likely to continue through the beginning of 2014 as the sun enters the most active period of its eight-year solar cycle.
“Solar activity has a cycle, minimum to maximum to minimum, and it’s getting close to the peak of solar maximum,” said NOAA officials, which will occur sometime in 2013 or 2014. It’s a cycle of about 11 years.
The solar storm erupted from the giant sunspot AR1520, or Active Region 1520, which is actually a group of sunspots that at its peak may have stretched across 186,000 miles of the sun’s surface, say NASA officials.
As for whether the massive solar flare will actually affect Earth, it remains unclear. Officials from the NASA and the NOAA both issue alerts and forecasts when the sun releases a massive burst of solar wind and magnetic energy in the form of plasma, known as a coronal mass ejection, following a solar flare.
“If we’re both thinking the same thing, it can be constructive. At times like this we’re not thinking the same thing so it’s a little bit awkward,” said Joe Kunches, a forecaster at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center. “It can be a little confusing. The best scenario in the future is for us to have more of a complementary relationship.”
Meanwhile, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured Thursday’s flare, wowing scientists with images of the massive outburst.
Officials warn the solar storm could cause some havoc. NOAA classified it as an R3 radio blackout, meaning GPS satellite signals “degraded for about an hour” and there was a “wide area blackout of high frequency radio communication” on Earth.
Solar eruptions like these pose a danger to Earth’s technology, as well as any spacecraft and astronauts that lie in their way. That said, the solar storms could present amateur astronomers with a stunning display of the Northern lights. Geomagnetic storms often generate dramatic aurora displays, which are also known as the northern and southern lights.
The latest geomagnetic storm predictions “would indicate aurora down to the northern U.S.,” C. Alex Young, a solar astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement.
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured Thursday’s flare, wowing scientists with images of the massive outburst.