Solar storm to hit this weekend: internet and satellites at risk

Northern lights display

Northern lights display Photo: Flickr CC / Jonathan Combe

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has issued a geomagnetic storm warning, caused by a series of solar flares, which could be the most severe since 2005.

“We have a very, very rare event ahead of us,” Shawn Dahl, coordinator at the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), told a news conference.

Solar winds moving directly towards Earth at nearly 800 kilometres per second will reach the planet by the weekend May 11-12. “We have notified operators of critical infrastructure, including communications, satellites and power plants,” the official added.

A geomagnetic storm, also known as a solar storm, is a temporary disturbance of the Earth’s magnetosphere that can be caused by a shock wave from the solar wind or a solar flare interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field. The effects of these storms are noticeable on Earth approximately 52 hours after their onset and can last from 24 hours to several days.

Aviation, GPS and internet disrupted

Geomagnetic storms, can impact satellites, which are crucial for GPS navigation, mobile communications and data transmission, can be damaged or malfunction due to solar energetic particles. These effects not only disrupt daily life, but can also have consequences for the safety of aviation and other critical operations.

One other consequence of this is the spectacular display of ‘Northern Lights’ (Aurora Borealis) which has been visible across large parts of the UK, including Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and, unusually, southern England as well as some areas in nortern Europe, the USA and Canada.

The most severe geomagnetic storm in recorded history was the Carrington Event in 1859. It was so powerful that the aurora was visible as far away as the Caribbean and telegraph lines suffered significant damage. More recently, the March 1989 geomagnetic storm caused a province-wide blackout in Quebec, Canada, and caused problems with satellites and other systems.

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Written by

Kevin Fraser Park

Kevin was born in Scotland and worked in marketing, running his own businesses in UK, Italy and, for the last 8 years, here in Spain. He moved to the Costa del Sol in 2016 working initially in real estate. He has a passion for literature and particularly the English language which is how he got into writing.