Geomagnetic storm coming to Earth by today: what are the risks

The solar wind projected by a violent coronal mass ejection from the Sun will reach Earth by today. A geomagnetic storm likely.

Credit: NASA

a violent coronal mass ejection (ECM) occurred on the Sole last July 15 it projected a slow towards our planet plasma flowwhich will strike within today against the Earth’s magnetic field triggering a geomagnetic storm. Fortunately, the phenomenon will be less intense than initially predicted by scientists; in fact we shouldn’t risk any blackout in communications and loss of Internet connectionas reported by some newspapers in the last few hours.

The event underlying the coronal mass ejection, i.e. an ejection of material from the solar corona (the outermost layer of the star’s atmosphere), was the sudden formation of a gigantic “canyon of fire” on the Sun. On July 15 a plasma filament (electrified gas) snaked around the star’s northern hemisphere and snapped like a whip generating the immense fire tongueover 384,000 kilometers long – the average distance that separates the Earth from the Moon – and 20,000 kilometers deep. This “whiplash”, visible in the spectacular images captured by solar observers, hurled intense waves into space solar winds right in the direction of the Earth, triggering the warning of a geomagnetic storm.

Immediately after the powerful solar flare some experts have warned of a possible geomagnetic storm of class G2 or even G3 (moderate to strong), but according to the latest calculations an event of class G1the minor. “The long snake-like filament swept away from the sun in an amazing ballet,” space weather physicist Tamitha Skov tweeted shortly after the event. “The magnetic orientation of this solar storm directed towards Earth will be difficult to predict. G2 level conditions (possibly G3) could occur if this storm’s magnetic field is oriented south! ”She added. In the latest Spaceweather.com bulletin, however, it was indicated that G1 class geomagnetic storms are likely, with possible aftermath until 23 July. According to experts, in fact, the coronal mass ejection linked to the tongue of fire would be followed by a rapid solar wind, capable of prolonging the magnetic disturbances for a couple of days.

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The moment of coronal mass ejection, with the snap of the tongue of fire.  Credit: NASA

The moment of coronal mass ejection, with the snap of the tongue of fire. Credit: NASA

Geomagnetic storms fall into five classes (G1 to G5), from mild to extreme. For a G1-class storm, scientists expect a slight impact on electric linessmall problems at satellite operations and a possible change in the migratory behavior of birds and other animals that exploit the Earth’s magnetic field. The polar auroraswhich are the result of the interaction between the charged particles of the solar wind and the Earth’s magnetic field, can occur a lower latitudes than normal. It is estimated that due to the event of 15 July it may be possible to observe thenorthern Lights in the skies of Michigan and Maine, in the United States.

A G5 storm would instead have catastrophic consequences, inter damaged satellitesprolonged electrical blackoutsstop browsing on Internet and at communicationspossible fire and auroras at low latitudes. Due to theCarrington eventa very powerful geomagnetic storm which occurred in September 1859, i telegraphs caught fire and the polar aurora was visible even over Rome. Today such an event would send us back to the Middle Ages for weeks, if not months, considering today’s technological infrastructures compared to those of 160 years ago.

Since the beginning of the year themagnetic activity del Sole is quite restless due to the fact that we are heading towards the solar maximum from 11-year cyclewhich is expected to occur in July of 2025. Because of this process Sunspots, flaresCME and other phenomena are much more frequent and catalyze the risk of geomagnetic storms on Earth, although in the vast majority of cases only limited and suggestive phenomena occur, such as the more intense polar auroras and lower latitudes.