Duck! The most massive solar flare since 2005 is heading Earth’s way, and the particles it’s expected to rain onto our magnetic field has planes being rerouted from their polar routes.
NASA reported that on January 22 the sun spewed a coronal mass ejection (CME), accompanied by a burst of fast-moving feisty protons known as solar energetic particles, all stemming from the strongest solar radiation storm in seven years.
Moving at 1,400 miles per second, the CME may reach Earth’s magnetosphere at 9 a.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday January 24, though NASA said that could be plus or minus seven hours.
“This has the potential to provide good auroral displays, possibly at lower latitudes than normal,” NASA said on its site. That last happened in October 2011, though it was not due to the same solar phenomenon.
According to Spaceweather.com, the S3-class radiation storm means potential degraded radio signals “through the polar regions and navigation position errors likely,” according to the site’s classification system. That radiation, in protons, arrived on Earth an hour after the initial burst, the Associated Press reported, bursting out of the sun at 93 million miles per hour. It is the second of three phases of the storm's hitting earth, with the first being a burst of electromagnetic radiation. The sun's plasma lags behind, this batch jetting along at 4 million miles per hour rather than the usual 1 to 2 million, the AP said.
Planes were rerouted on Monday to avoid any magnetic disruptions along polar routes, Space.com reported.
Spaceweather.com said the eruption would deliver a “glancing blow” to Earth’s magnetic field, passing mostly north of the planet. NASA rated the flare an M9-class eruption, just a hair below an X-Class, the most powerful. A CME, according to the NASA definition, can contain up to a billion tons of matter that can travel millions of miles an hour. They burst out through the sun's magnetic fields as bubbles of gas and magnetic fields forming CMEs. They can occur with or without solar flares.
The radiation storm’s peak is due on Tuesday as the plasma-particle cloud, the third part of the storm, charges past the Earth. The magnetic field could be distorted as far south as Texas and Arizona, the Washington Post reported.
“We expect moderate to potentially strong geomagnetic storming that can cause pipeline corrosion effects and power grid fluctuations,” said Doug Biesecker, a physicist at the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colo., to the Post. The storm should continue into Wednesday January 25, the SWPC said.
NOAA is encouraging interested viewers to track the storm's updates on its Facebook page.