Solar storm forecasters say the particles disgorged in a massive solar flare could strike Earth in a particular way, which would make a currently moderate solar storm more severe.
So far, the solar storm buffeting Earth is weaker than experts had forecast. But the intensity could grow quickly, perhaps becoming severe, during the next 24 hours if the remainder of the storm strikes the Earth’s magnetic envelope in a particular way, as scientists say it might.
Under those conditions, the storm could pose a more serious threat to power grids, satellites, airliners, and radio communications.
This solar geomagnetic storm – called a coronal mass ejection (CME) by scientists – is the strongest to hit Earth since 2005.
Satellite operators were being advised by NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., that some of their systems could be damaged by the cloud of charged particles now reaching earth, which were emitted earlier this week as part a huge solar flare.
Canadian space-weather monitoring groups also sent warnings to power-grid operators at northern latitudes most vulnerable to the storm. At midday, the grid operator for the New England region, which receives the Canadian warnings, said the storm-intensity alerts did not yet require specific actions. Typically, these actions would include firing up local generating plants to reduce stress on long-distance transmission lines.
The nation's three big, regional grids were also doing fine at late morning, according to the North American Electric Reliability Corp., which is in charge of reliability for the nation's major power grids.
Currently, the storm registers at about a G2 level on an intensity scale that goes from one to five, with five being the strongest, says Antti Pulkkinen, a solar weather research scientist at NASA-Goddard.