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Strong Solar Storm Could Disrupt Communications and Produce Northern Lights in US
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By Associated Press
Published 3 weeks ago on
May 10, 2024

An unusually strong solar storm is headed toward Earth, potentially disrupting power and communications, and producing northern lights in the U.S. (AP/NASA)

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — An unusually strong solar storm headed toward Earth could produce northern lights in the U.S. this weekend and potentially disrupt power and communications.

The First Geomagnetic Storm Watch in 20 Years

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a rare geomagnetic storm watch — the first in nearly 20 years. That was expected to become a warning Friday night, when the effects of the solar outburst were due to reach Earth.

NOAA already has alerted operators of power plants and spacecraft in orbit to take precautions.

“As far as the worst situation expected here at Earth, that’s tough to say and I wouldn’t want to speculate on that,” said NOAA space weather forecaster Shawn Dahl. “However, severe level is pretty extraordinary, It’s a very rare event to happen.”

Effects of the Solar Flares

NOAA said the sun produced strong solar flares beginning Wednesday, resulting in five outbursts of plasma capable of disrupting satellites in orbit and power grids here on Earth. Each eruption — known as a coronal mass ejection — can contain billions of tons of plasma and magnetic field from the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona.

The flares seem to be associated with a sunspot that’s 16 times the diameter of Earth, according to NOAA. An extreme geomagnetic storm in 2003 took out power in Sweden and damaged power transformers in South Africa.

Potential Northern Lights Sightings

The latest storm could produce northern lights as far south in the U.S. as Alabama and Northern California, according to NOAA.

The most intense solar storm in recorded history, in 1859, prompted auroras in central America and possibly even Hawaii. “That’s an extreme-level event,” Dahl said. “We are not anticipating that” but it could come close.

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