Yesterday, the entirety of South America and large parts of Mexico, USA and Canada suffered shortwave radio blackouts after a powerful M8.6-class solar flare erupted on the unstable AR3234 sunspot. The flare which was just percentage points behind an X-class eruption came unexpectedly and affected drone pilots and ham radio operators in the region. However, the danger is not over. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has now issued a warning over a possible solar storm that is due to strike the Earth in two day’s time, on March 4.
The incident was reported by SpaceWeather.com which noted on its website, “Yesterday’s M8.6-class solar flare produced a faint CME. NOAA analysts have determined that it might deliver a glancing blow to Earth’s magnetic field on March 4th. Minor G1-class solar storms are possible on that date”. While the solar storm itself is expected to be minor, the presence of fast-moving solar winds can complicate the situation.
Solar storm expected to hit the Earth over the weekend
Essentially, there are two factors that govern whether a solar storm will strike the Earth or not and how intense it could be. The first is the amount of solar material, also known as coronal mass ejection (CME), released during a solar flare eruption. The higher the amount of CME that strikes the Earth, the more intense solar storms it will create. In this case, it is expected that the CME cloud will only deliver glancing blows to the Earth which means that the full brunt of the solar storm will not be experienced by our planet.
However, there is a secondary factor which is the presence of any secondary influence that either increases the speed of these solar particles striking the Earth or creates an opening in the magnetosphere to allow more particles seeping into the upper atmosphere. Solar winds play a crucial role in both of them. So, the presence of solar winds mean that even if the projected solar storm based on CME concentration is minor, the solar flare can increase the intensity manyfolds. We will have to wait and see how dangerous this solar storm can be for our planet.
How NOAA monitors the Sun
NOAA monitors the solar storms and Sun’s behavior using its DSCOVR satellite which became operational in 2016. The recovered data is then run through the Space Weather Prediction Center and the final analysis is prepared. The different measurements are done on temperature, speed, density, degree of orientation and frequency of the solar particles.