How The Biggest Solar Storm Since 2005 Is Going To Affect You

There's a solar Coronal Mass Ejection travelling towards us at 2253km/s, the largest solar storm since 2005. It will hit Earth around 9am ET (1am AEDT), causing fluctuations on the power grid and disruptions to the Global Positioning System.

Don't worry, you won't die.

But there's something else, a strong proton storm — ranking S3 on a 5-level scale — which is in full rage now and gradually increasing. While CMEs are normal — about 2000 every 11-year solar cycle — proton storms are very rare. Only a couple of dozen happen per solar cycle. And this one can be dangerous.

The storm has already affected aircraft traffic and may affect satellites' computers. On a telephone interview, NOAA's Space Weather Prediction centre physicist Doug Biesecker told me that, fortunately, there are measures to avoid most dangers.

"Many airliners have been avoiding the North Pole routes because they are more exposed to the proton storm, which disrupts High Frequency radio communications," he said on a telephone interview. HF datalinks are crucial to modern airflight, as they keep aircraft connected to Air Traffic Control. Due to the structure of the magnetic field that surrounds Earth, the polar cusps have very little protection against outbursts of solar radiation, so any aeroplane crossing that area could be exposed to this mayhem.

We're experiencing technical difficulties

He also said that satellites may be affected, causing reboots on onboard computers as well as noise in imaging systems and interferences in telemetry caused by something called single event offsets. These events may change the values of the telemetry data. Since we are aware of these interferences in advance, engineers on ground bases can take them into account and make corrections before firing any commands that may jeopardise the life of the spacecraft.

The only real unpredictable danger is a total hardware failure, with a proton hitting an electronic component and killing it. But according to Biesecker, this "is a very remote possibility".

Global positioning systems are also affected — and will be even more affected tomorrow. Regular humans will not notice this. You will be able to keep using your GPS normally, but people using high precision GPS equipments — like oil drilling, military, engineering and mining operations — will definitely notice the problems.

The biological danger

NOAA's scale says that an S3 proton storm may pose danger to passengers in high-flying aircraft at high latitudes, which is why some aeroplanes below the 65th parallel north are now actually flying at lower altitudes to avoid any kind of radiation nastiness.

They also recommend for astronauts to stay home and avoid space walks but — according to Biesecker — this type of storm is "far below the level needed for the ISS to take any extraordinary protection measures." If it's ok for them, you can be sure it's perfectly fine for you and me down here on good old planet Earth.

What will happen when the CME hits tomorrow morning?

When the Coronal Mass Ejection arrives to Earth at 2253km/s, we will have a geomagnetic storm and a radio blackout. This, apart from the possibility of awesome auroras at latitudes as low as New York, means several things.

First, the radio blackout will be level R2, which is moderate. According to the NOAA scale, it will cause "limited blackout of HF radio communication on the sunlit side and loss of radio contact for tens of minutes", as well as "degradation of low-frequency navigation signals for tens of minutes". Nothing that you should worry about.

The geomagnetic storm will only be "strong G2 with possibilities of G3," according to Bisecker. In the best case scenario, only power lines will be affected. You will not notice it because any power fluctuations will be handled by companies at the grid level. If the storm is long enough, however, it may damage power grid transformers.

Other than all this, and unless something extraordinary happens, you shouldn't worry about the world ending tomorrow. It won't. But keep your eyes open for auroras happening near you. Those living up north in particular will have a great show today and tomorrow.


Comments

    I wonder if U-2 patrols will be put on hold for a day...

    HAHA.. how boring.. Come on Son (sun) you can do better than this !!

      We want death and destruction !! lol

      Nath. He is disappoint.

    There is Australian research that says we may anticipate a spike in suicide. Lets see what happens.

    Bioelectromagnetics. 2006 Feb;27(2):151-5.
    Do ambient electromagnetic fields affect behaviour? A demonstration of the relationship between geomagnetic storm activity and suicide.
    Berk M, Dodd S, Henry M.

    Abstract
    The relationship between ambient electromagnetic fields and human mood and behaviour is of great public health interest. The relationship between Ap indices of geomagnetic storm activity and national suicide statistics for Australia from 1968 to 2002 was studied. Ap index data was normalised so as to be globally uniform and gave a measure of storm activity for each day. A geomagnetic storm event was defined as a day in which the Ap index was equal to or exceeded 100 nT. Suicide data was a national tally of daily male and female death figures where suicide had been documented as the cause of death. A total of 51 845 males and 16 327 females were included. The average number of suicides was greatest in spring for males and females, and lowest in autumn for males and summer for females. Suicide amongst females increased significantly in autumn during concurrent periods of geomagnetic storm activity (P = .01). This pattern was not observed in males (P = .16). This suggests that perturbations in ambient electromagnetic field activity impact behaviour in a clinically meaningful manner. The study furthermore raises issues regarding other sources of stray electromagnetic fields and their effect on mental health.

      So does this mean that M. Night Shyamalan's "The Happening" was bad purely because it was based on the wrong element? If he had based it on a solar event he would be saying "Ha, I told you so!". Would that have been enopugh to counter the wooden acting of Marky Mark?

    The protons will charge the sky making it easier to ignite when the 2012 rapture kicks into full gear.

    This is only phase 1.

      ok dude, the world isnt going to end. its bin running fine for 4 billion years..go to this link: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/2012.html

        someone can't take a joke..

          ah he wasnt joking - this is phase 1 of the 3 phase plan predicted by both nostradamus and the mohecians, i mean, aztec....

          And you know what this means - i can finally use my Zombie killing kit i bought 3 months ago! win win!!

    Let the Rapture Begin cause this hangover is killing me dang

    this reminds me of Knowing....

    Sun, I am disappoint

    gosh does anyone know how this aafects south africa as no one here knows. Are we too far south to feel the effects.

    Work will be interesting tomorrow. I currently contract in the BSD of a large energy provider. Wonder what we'll hear tomorrow.

    But tens of minutes starting at around 1 am? Sounds like we will be completely unaffected, at least directly.

    hey guys.. nothing will happen, get that in your beanie little brains. the world will not end. check this link out its for NASA website: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/2012.html

      Cos we all believe what NASA have to say... like the time they put a man on the moon...

        Another conspiracy douche. Go smoke some weed and waste your time elsewhere.

          Chill Winston...

          can't see a troll for the rage?

    Why does the article go on about North? Isn't the South pole closer to the sun at the moment? Sure feels like summer in OZ !

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