Happening right now, the strongest solar storm since May 2005 may produce a display of the northern lights as far south as Illinois and Oregon. That’s good. On the down side, the storm’s radiation could also could affect navigation, electrical power systems and put astronauts, airline passengers and crews flying high and in high latitudes in danger.
The solar storm’s first wave of radiation reached Earth early Monday following a moderate solar flare 11 p.m. Sunday, crossing the 93 million mile distance between the star and our planet in about an hour. Sunday’s solar flare sent what scientists call a coronal-mass ejection (CME) in the direction of earth at 4 million miles an hour; fast even for this sort of event. The CMEs are giant clouds of energized particles – protons, electrons, and heavy atomic nuclei formed by the nuclear fission reactions that keep the sun shining explained the Christian Science Monitor.
The next wave hit this morning, and the effects are expected to last through the night. According to spaceweather.com, this storm is strong enough to interfere with radio communications along the poles, and to possibly cause some satellite computers to reboot. The storms caused by solar flares are measured on a scale of one to five. This storm is a three.
In response, airlines rerouted flights that normally cross the polar regions, like those going from New York City to Tokyo, because solar storms of this strength can make aircraft-to-ground communications more difficult, Rodney Viereck, a scientist at the prediction center told syracuse.com. The storm also could affect spacecraft systems, increase drag on satellites and disrupt their orientation. Satellite and radio navigation systems may experience problems.
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have been advised to shield themselves in specific parts of the spacecraft to avoid a high dose of solar radiation.