Huge solar storm hitting Earth today could cause mass disruption for power grids and satellites, agency warns

A X5.4 solar flare, the largest in five years, erupts from the sun’s surface March 6, 2012 (Getty Images)
A X5.4 solar flare, the largest in five years, erupts from the sun’s surface March 6, 2012 (Getty Images)

An enormous solar flare is expected to hit Earth today, potentially affecting power grids and generating an aurora in northern latitudes.

The coronal mass ejection originates from the Sun, which is caused by a huge burst of electrically conducting plasma.

An alert published by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) informed that we should expect “weak power grid fluctuations” and satellite “orientation irregularities” which could increase drag on craft in low Earth orbit.

The agency rates the storm as G2, which means it is moderately strong. It is expected to arrive around midday and will continue until 12 October.

"Aurora is possible through [the] 11th across much of Scotland, although cloud amounts are increasing, meaning sightings are unlikely”, the Met Office said, as reported by Sky.

"There is a slight chance of aurora reaching the far north of England and Northern Ireland tonight, but cloud breaks and therefore sightings are more likely in Northern Ireland."

While this storm will be relatively weak, the planet is not ready for the height of a more powerful superstorm.

On 15 May, 1921, multiple fires broke out in electricity and telegraph control rooms in several parts of the world, including in the US and the UK, due to the strength of the New York Railroad Storm.

Storms like these happen once in every 100 years, and could plunge the world into an “internet apocalypse,” one study has claimed.

“A Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) involves the emis­sion of electrically charged matter and accompany­ing magnetic field into space. When it hits the earth, it interacts with the earth’s magnetic field and produces Geomagnetically Induced Currents (GIC) on the crust,” said Dr Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi, from the University of California, Irvine and VMware Research.

“In today’s long-haul Internet cables, the optical fibre is immune to GIC. But these cables also have electrically powered repeaters at ~100 km intervals that are susceptible to damages.”

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