NOAA: Largest Solar Radiation Storm Since 2005 Now in Progress

X-Ray image from a GOES satellite at 14:12 UTC on January 23, 2012. Credit: NOAA


Earth’s magnetic field is already full of activity from an Earth-directed Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) last week. But all indications are another blast is headed our way from the strongest solar radiation storm since September, 2005. NOAA says the storm is currently in progress and continues to get stronger, with a very fast CME headed towards Earth. Sunspot 1402 erupted, producing a long-duration M9-class solar flare. “Geomagnetic storming is a near certainty from this event,” reported NOAA. The associated solar flare peaked at about 0400 UTC on January 23 (11pm Jan 22 EST).”

A computer model just released by NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center forecasts the storm will arrive sometime on January 24, at about 14:18 UT (+/- 7 hours), as the CME is traveling at approx. 2,200 km per second. Click here to see the animated model.

We’ve already shown you a video of the auroral activity going on yesterday and will soon post a gallery of beautiful aurorae from around the world. And it looks like we’ll likely have more photos to share in the coming week! And NASA says skywatchers should be on the lookout for aurora in lower than normal latitudes. Scientists are also predicting that Mars will get hit too, several hours after Earth. At this point, there‚Äôs no way to predict the possible effect on Earth-orbiting satellites for communications, GPS, etc, or the effect on Mars spacecraft.

These kinds of events can cause problems for spacecrafts in geosynchronous, polar and other orbits passing could be affected by the cloud’s arrival. In addition, strong geomagnetic storms are possible, so high-latitude sky watchers should be alert for aurorae.

Below is a video from the Solar Dynamics Observatory of the event:

Solar Storm Heading Our Way

This plot shows 3-days of 5-minute solar x-ray flux values measured on the SWPC primary GOES satellite. Credit: NOAA/SWPC

Early today, (Aug 3, 2011) two active regions on the Sun, sunspot 1261 and 1263 unleashed solar flares, which was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. The above video shows an M6 class flare from 1261 in a couple of different wavelengths. SolarstormWatch, a citizen science project through the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England predicts the solar storm from the larger flare to reach Earth at 15:00 UTC on August 5, 2011, and also predict direct hit on Earth.

See below for a graph of the activity:


Solar storms are a concern if they hit Earth directly since under the right conditions, they can create extra electrical currents in Earth’s magnetosphere. The electrical power grid is vulnerable to any extra currents, which can infiltrate high-voltage transmission lines, causing transformers to overheat and possibly burn out.

Check and the National Weather Service’s Space Weather Prediction Center for more information.