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Solar storm about to strike Earth in a ‘direct hit’

GPS, radio signals, and satellites could be disrupted despite the storm being ‘minor’

Adam Smith
Monday 18 July 2022 12:55 BST
This Is How Bad a Massive Solar Storm Would Be if It Hit Earth Today
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A solar storm is predicted to hit the Earth tomorrow that could disrupt GPS and radio signals.

The impact of a “snake-like filament” from the Sun, which Nasa predicts will happen on 19 July, will be a “direct hit” according to Dr Tamitha Skov, adding that we should “expect signal disruptions on Earth’s nightside”. It is also possible that aurora might be visible in some regions of the Earth.

However, it is possible that the storm could also come later this week. The G1-class storm – which is “minor” but could impact satellite operations – could strike the Earth on 20 or 21 July, according to SpaceWeather.

The origins of the storm come from a coronal mass ejection, a release of plasma and magnetic energy, which leapt from the Sun on 15 July by an unstable filament of magnetism. These eruptions are capable of releasing 100,000 times more energy than all the power plants on Earth generate throughout a year.

These storms come as the Sun is in the active phase of its 11 year-long solar cycle, with incidents like these expected to increase in frequency.

Over the weekend, an enormous structure of plasma and magnetic field known as a ‘prominence’ broke away from the Sun.

"The sheer size of the prominence is impressive," says Dr Sebastian Voltmer, who captured an image of it, told SpaceWeather. "It was spectacular to see a very fast moving part of it ejecting and detaching to the side."

Potent solar storms can have serious effects on human activities. Some research suggests that satellites have been dropping out of their orbits due to increased solar wind activity and smaller craft, known as CubeSats, have been destroyed completely. The decrease in altitude for these satellites is 10 times faster than it has been in the past, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars.

Scientists may have a way of predicting these storms, using the maximal growth rate of sunspot activity is a precursor to how powerful the cycle might be, and this could help us protect vulnerable infrastructure such as power grids, communication equipment, and the internet.

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