Just now, the Sun released a truly magnificent flare.
A solar flare of class X2.8, the strongest category our star can produce, erupted from an active sunspot region known as AR 3514 on December 14. This flare is the strongest that we have observed for the current solar cycle and the strongest since the September 2017 X8.2 flare.
A moderate radio blackout that affected mostly South America resulted from the incident, lasting two hours and causing a temporary deterioration or total loss of radio signals in high frequencies.
Concurrently, the Sun generated a coronal mass ejection, or CME, which shot billions of tons of plasma and magnetic field into the Solar System, showering solar particles everywhere it went.
And maybe some of it is going to Earth. We might be in for a moderate geomagnetic storm if it is, as organizations like the NOAA are now looking into.
First off, there’s no reason to be alarmed. Despite its strength, the flare was pointing somewhat away from Earth rather than directly toward it, suggesting that the impact might only be glancing. It may perhaps not hit at all. Though analysis is still underway, the UK Met Office predicts that if it does make landfall, it would likely occur on December 17 and could produce a minor geomagnetic storm.
However, there might be some activity sooner. The Space Weather Prediction Center of NOAA states that a smaller CME that erupted on December 13 will arrive at Earth first.
This is what that implies. When a surge of solar particles strikes Earth’s magnetic field, it causes a geomagnetic storm. Owing to the lengthy travel period of these particles, the storm may develop many days following the discharge of the CME.
This has a number of repercussions, the severity of which increases with the storm’s intensity. There are five levels; the two mildest are G1 and G2, which stand for minor and moderate.
Power grid fluctuations could occur as a result of solar particle interactions with Earth’s magnetic field, which can produce electrical currents that run through power networks. Certain satellites could need to adjust their route because of potential changes in the low Earth orbit environment that could affect how much drag a spacecraft experiences. There could also be a break in radio transmissions.
Aurora could also be a possibility. One tool for predicting auroral activity is a 10-point Kp index for geomagnetic activity.
The NOAA forecasts that on December 15 and 16, geomagnetic activity will reach Kp5. This implies that powerful auroral displays at high latitudes are likely to occur. To find out when the peaks will occur, you can consult Spaceweatherlive’s aurora forecast.
The Sun’s activity of this kind is somewhat typical. Its 11-year activity cycle is about to climax, which implies there will be an increase in sunspots, flares, and CMEs. The Sun’s magnetic field will reverse polarity at the top, sometimes referred to as solar maximum, and activity will begin to decrease. The exact moment of solar maximum is unknown; in fact, we probably won’t find out until after it has passed. As of right now, estimates put it as early as January 2024.
The region of AR 3514 has been relatively active. On the same day as the X-class flare, it also produced two M-class flares. It is the second-strongest class of solar flares. Though it’s less likely to affect Earth, we could yet see more activity from it; the area is presently rotating away from us and will soon vanish into the far side of the Sun.
But don’t worry. Before this solar cycle ends, there will undoubtedly be a great deal more.