A Huge Solar Blast Is Headed Towards Earth And It Could Interrupt Communications

solar waves
A geomagnetic storm watch is in effect for August 17-19 due to multiple coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that have departed from the Sun since August 14, 2022. The resultant disturbed solar wind field and geomagnetic responses are considered to be enough for a potential G3 (Strong) geomagnetic storm on August 18th, and could provide a light show for some in the northern continental United States.

The predicted geomagnetic storm is a result of interactions between the strong solar wind blowing from a "hole" in the upper atmosphere of the Sun, called the corona, and the Earth's magnetic field. The storm is expected to gain strength as it combines with several CMEs that erupted earlier this week. A possible G1 (Minor) geomagnetic storm is expected today, August 17th, while a stronger G3 (Strong) storm is possible on the 18th.

sun ejection
Image Credit: NOAA

Geomagnetic storms are caused when a major disturbance of Earth's magnetosphere occurs due to an exchange of energy from the solar wind into the space surrounding Earth. These storms originate from variations in the solar wind that produces major changes in the plasmas, currents, and fields in Earth's magnetosphere. The storms are typically strongest when they are associated with CMEs, such as those that are predicted this week.

A CME is a large expulsion of plasma and magnetic field from the Sun's corona, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). These outbursts from the Sun can eject billions of tons of coronal material and carry with it an embedded magnetic field that is more intense than the background solar wind interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) strength. Traveling at speeds ranging between 250 kilometers per second to 3000 km/s, a CME can reach Earth in as little as 15-18 hours, while some may take up to several days to arrive.

These geomagnetic storms are expected to have a low to moderate impact on Earth, as most of the ejecta is predicted to pass either ahead of or south of Earth's orbit. The greatest chance for a communications interruption to occur will be on August 18th, with a slightly lower chance on Friday, August 19th.

aurora lights
Image Credit: Tommy Andreassen, Pixabay

However, a G3 storm has the potential to drive the aurora further away from its polar position, and if other elements occur, the aurora could be seen over portions of Pennsylvania, Iowa, to northern Oregon. So, if are located along this path you may want to watch the sky for nature's light show on August 18-19.

Top Image Credit: NASA