Late last night, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory observed a massive “ultraviolet flash” emitted from the sun, which has turned out to be the largest solar radiation storm since 2005. This M9-class coronal mass ejection (CME) is expected to hit earth today at 9 am EST, and could cause widespread communications interference and damage to electrical systems and structures.
This M9-class solar eruption is just teetering below an X-class eruption, which is considered to be the most severe type of solar storm. M9-class solar eruptions have been occurring almost daily throughout the past week in an area of the sun known as sunspot 1402. But as this area slowly rotates towards the direction of earth, the threat of damage and destruction continues to increase.
“There is little doubt that the cloud is heading in the general direction of Earth,” says a Spaceweather.com update. “A preliminary inspection of SOHO / STEREO imagery suggests that the CME will deliver a strong glancing blow to Earth’s magnetic field on Jan. 24 – 25 as it sails mostly north of our planet.”
What does all this mean in terms of potential damage to the planet? It is hard to say, since nobody knows for sure exactly where this solar storm will hit, or what the power of it will be. However, the Spaceweather.com announcement warns that certain spacecraft “in geosynchronous, polar and other orbits passing through Earth’s ring current and auroral regions” could sustain damage. Intensified auroral storms are also possible.
This onslaught of charged particles is also a potential threat to aircraft flying across the earth’s poles, which is why such flights are now being rerouted, according to reports. And as far as the general public is concerned, downed satellites, communications interference, and even electrical transmission problems are all a possibility.
The sun is currently in Solar Cycle 24, a period of intensified solar activity that began in 2008. Though it is set to peak in 2013, this cycle is a threat right now as the sun’s rotation puts earth directly in line with sunspot 1402. And as these already borderline-X-class storms coming from sunspot 1402 intensify, so will the threat of widespread disruption and damage.