Unprecedented solar activity could light up US skies, disrupt power and communications

An intense solar storm, one of the strongest in over two decades, made its presence felt on Earth this Friday, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The solar outburst, which arrived earlier than anticipated, is expected to cause disruptions in power and communications throughout the weekend and into the next week.
NOAA has issued a severe geomagnetic storm warning and has advised operators of power plants and spacecraft to take necessary precautions.Rob Steenburgh, a scientist at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, emphasized, “For most people here on planet Earth, they won’t have to do anything,” suggesting that the immediate impact on everyday life might be minimal for the general public.
However, the geomagnetic disturbance is potent enough to produce visible northern lights far south in the U.S., reaching as far down as Alabama and Northern California. Steenburgh noted that while the auroras might not display the dramatic curtains of color typically seen in polar regions, they could still present “splashes of greenish hues.”
Mike Bettwy, operations chief for the prediction center, encouraged the public to document this rare event, saying, “Snap a picture of the sky and there might be actually a nice little treat there for you.” This phenomenon could mirror the historical auroras seen during the 1859 Carrington Event, although experts like NOAA’s Shawn Dahl have clarified that this storm, while strong, is not expected to reach those levels.
The solar storm has been categorized as level 4 on a 5-point scale, posing risks primarily to high-voltage transmission lines and satellites, which could affect navigation and communication services on Earth. The 2003 geomagnetic storm, which had similar strength, resulted in significant power disruptions in Sweden and damage to power transformers in South Africa.
As the sun nears the peak of its 11-year cycle, increased solar activity has been observed, with multiple solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) detected since Wednesday. These CMEs carry billions of tons of plasma and magnetic fields, potentially leading to more disturbances in the coming days.
Nasa has reassured that the International Space Station’s crew, including seven astronauts, is safe, with plans in place to mitigate increased radiation levels. The space agency, along with other space-focused organizations, remains vigilant, monitoring the ongoing solar activity.
The storm provides a unique opportunity for scientific observation and public engagement with space weather phenomena. As the storm continues, authorities recommend that residents in affected areas prepare for potential power outages and enjoy the natural spectacle safely.
(With inputs from agencies)


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