The weekend passed without any solar activity, but things are about to change. The highly unstable sunspot, AR3311, which was responsible for last week’s Class X solar flare outbreak that knocked radio outages on Earth, could explode again to terrifying effect. Unlike last time, sunspots are now across the entire width of the Earth and any volcanic eruptions will be geo-effective. That means a stronger UV effect, which means a wider radio blackout, and a stronger solar storm event. But how devastating could the event be? Let’s take a look.
According to a report by SpaceWeather.com, “Unstable sunspot AR3311 contains a ‘beta gamma delta’ magnetic field that harbors energy for powerful solar flares. NOAA forecasters say there is a 75% chance of M-class flares and a 30% X chance of flares occurring.” It is also not out of the question for multiple volcanic eruptions to occur simultaneously, which could complicate matters further.
Sunspot is afraid to explode
We haven’t seen such a large sunspot harboring so much magnetic flux in two months. However, the last such sunspot exploded several times before encountering Earth and did not explode while remaining geographically effective. But the chances of similar luck are low this time.
If the sunspot explodes and releases an X-class solar flare, the resulting coronal mass ejection (CME) that escapes into space could be large enough to trigger a G5-class geomagnetic storm. Such storms that hit the Earth can damage satellites, disrupt GPS, mobile phone networks and Internet connectivity, cause power grid outages, and even affect terrestrial electronics.
NOAA’s GOES-16 satellite in forecasting solar storms
GOES-16, formerly known as GOES-R prior to reaching geostationary orbit, is the first of the GOES-R series of operational geostationary environmental satellites operated by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It was launched on November 19, 2016, and became operational on December 18, 2017. GOES-16 is in a geostationary orbit over the Atlantic Ocean and provides continuous images and atmospheric measurements of Earth’s western hemisphere. It also carries a lightning chart, which can detect cloud-to-cloud lightning and cloud-to-ground lightning. GOES-16 is a vital tool for weather forecasting, climate monitoring and space weather forecasting.
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