Last week, astronomers witnessed really high solar activity after a sunspot complex turned unstable and began exploding. Over a period of four days, the sunspot triggered solar flares at regular intervals creating a rolling series of blackouts over the Earth. But the worst of it came on Sunday, May 7, when an M1.5-class solar flare erupted and the ultraviolet radiation caused a shortwave radio blackout over the western USA and part of the Pacific Ocean. Concerns are now rising on whether a solar storm has been triggered by the solar flare or not.
According to a report by SpaceWeather.com, “Reversed-polarity sunspot AR3296 just did it again. The backwards active region exploded on May 7th (2234 UT), producing a long-lasting M1.5-class solar flare. The blast was squarely Earth-directed. Extreme ultraviolet radiation from the flare ionized the top of Earth’s atmosphere, producing a minor shortwave radio blackout over the western USA and the Pacific Ocean”.
Solar storm fears rise for Earth
Luckily, the blackout was a brief one and did not cause any major issues, but for the time it was active, mariners and ham radio operators could have noticed a loss of signal at frequencies below 20 MHz. Drone operators would also have struggled with connectivity issues.
But now, there is a fear of a solar storm that can soon strike the Earth. According to NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory’s (SOHO) coronagraph, a coronal mass ejection (CME) cloud was released during the eruption. Scarily, the impact can cause a strong geomagnetic storm tomorrow, May 10. The expected intensity of the storm has been estimated to be between G2 and G3.
Such storms can do more damage than normal. They can damage small satellites, impact mobile networks, GPS, and even pose a threat to ground-based electronics and power grids by increasing the magnetic potential by huge amounts.
How NASA SOHO monitors the Sun
NASA’s SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) is a satellite that was launched on December 2, 1995. It is a joint project between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) to study the sun, its atmosphere, and its effects on the solar system. Equipped with 12 scientific instruments, such as the Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (EIT), Michelson Doppler Imager (MDI), LASCO (Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph), and others, SOHO captures images of the sun’s corona, measures the velocity and magnetic fields of the sun’s surface, and observes the faint corona around the sun.
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