Scientists issue warning as biggest solar storm in nearly 20 years could cause phone and internet blackout today

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has issued a warning about potential technological disruptions due to a ‘severe’ solar storm. This alert follows the convergence of two significant sunspots and the release of multiple solar flares, two of which have been identified as X-class, the most intense category.

These flares, termed coronal mass ejections (CMEs), are expanding as they journey through space and are anticipated to reach Earth late today (May 10) or early tomorrow. With the merging of the sunspots, NOAA elevated its geomagnetic solar storm watch from level 3, which is considered ‘moderate’, to level 4, classified as ‘severe’.

The agency emphasized the rarity of this ‘severe’ level, stating, “This is an unusual event.” NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), a division of the National Weather Service, is closely monitoring the sun following a series of solar flares and CMEs that began on May 8. Forecasters have issued a Severe (G4) Geomagnetic Storm Watch for Friday evening.

The last time such a watch was categorized as ‘severe’ was in January 2005. The Space Weather Prediction Center reported, “These two sunspot clusters are magnetically complex and much larger than Earth. Together they have been the source of frequent M-class flares (minor to moderate).” The combined sunspot region, designated as RGN 3664, continues to expand and increase in magnetic complexity, posing a higher risk of heightened solar flare activity.

Potential impacts of the CMEs range from the appearance of the northern lights to disruptions in high-frequency radio, satellite communication, and GPS systems, including increased range error. Power system irregularities could also trigger false alarms on security devices.

Professor Peter Becker, from George Mason University, has previously clarified that typically, we can detect the flash of a coronal mass ejection (CME) from Earth about 18-24 hours before the particles reach our planet and begin affecting Earth’s magnetic field.

During the peak strength of the solar storm, blackouts and disruptions could endure for several hours. However, they may persist at a lower intensity throughout the weekend.

Although the storm might impact technology, geomagnetic storms are generally not hazardous to humans.

In the event of technological disruptions, residents may have the opportunity to observe the Northern Lights in various regions of Canada and the United States, including North Dakota, South Dakota, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

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