Biggest radiation storm since 2005 headed for Earth


January 23, 2012

The solar flare (top right) that sent the CME heading our way (Image: National Weather Service's Space Weather Prediction Center)

The solar flare (top right) that sent the CME heading our way (Image: National Weather Service's Space Weather Prediction Center)

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Lock up your satellites and batten down your power-lines because a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) is headed our way. According to the National Weather Service's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), it is the strongest Solar Radiation Storm since May, 2005. According to NASA, the CME is moving at almost 1,400 miles per second (2,253 km/s) and will reach the Earth's magnetosphere as early as 9 a.m. US EST on Tuesday, January 24 - give or take seven hours.

NASA says the radiation storm, which is ranked as an S3 (strong) event, is the result of an M8.7 class solar flare that erupted late on January 22, sending a CME and a burst of fast moving, highly energetic protons known as a "solar energetic particle" event towards the Earth. With the arrival of the CME, the SWPC forecasts G2 (Moderate) level geomagnetic storming, with G3 (Strong) levels possible. It expects the "enhanced conditions" to last through Wednesday.

The burst of solar wind has the potential to cause isolated reboots of computers on board satellites, damage power lines, and disrupt radio transmissions. It can also expose those in space or at high altitudes - in an airplane, for example - to intense radiation. There have already been reports of flights over the North Pole being rerouted and no launches into space are expected for the duration of the event for this reason.

On the upside, the collision of the energetic charged particles with atoms in the thermosphere is likely to result in quite the light show with particularly strong aurorae around the Arctic Circle likely.

Sources: SWPC, NASA

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick
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