Recent solar flares could affect US power infrastructure

The radio blackout events, as observed by NOAA's GOES satellite (Courtesy: NOAA)
The radio blackout events, as observed by NOAA's GOES satellite (Courtesy: NOAA)
The solar radiation storm, as observed by NOAA’s GOES satellite (Courtesy: NOAA)
The solar radiation storm, as observed by NOAA’s GOES satellite (Courtesy: NOAA)

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - The NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder has observed over the last several days a very active period in the Sun's atmosphere that could potentially affect US communication and power grid infrastructure.

This series of events, where the sun ejects giant lobs of energy, are called Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs). During this time three solar flares, also known as a radio blackouts, have been emitted.

Three CMEs are currently en route to Earth. These CMEs that originated on August 2nd and 3rd will arrive mid-day on August 5th.

The third and fastest CME, moving at near 2000 kilometers per second, may catch up with the first two en route. This reaction will compress the plasma and enhance the embedded magnetic field. This will result in storm levels being at the G3 (Strong) and may also bump the ongoing solar radiation storm up to an S2 (moderate) threshold. In the photos are the NOAA's GOES satellite's observation of the blackout events and the solar radiation storm.

This geomagnetic disturbance is expected to continue through August 7th. Additional ejections are expected over the next 7 days.

The impact to Earth based systems has the potential to be "major". On the geomagnetic activity scale ranging from Kp 0 to 9 the impact is expected to be a Kp 7.

These events can cause disturbances to the Earth's geomagnetic field. That geomagnetic field has several purposes including protecting communication and navigation satellites.

There have already been reports of difficulty communicating with aircraft en route via HF communications over the Pacific and Atlantic sectors during the last 72 hours.

Commercial airlines traveling over the Polar Regions have experienced problems communicating over HF communications but it has not yet impacted normal operations. Home and car protection devices may trigger a false alarm notification.

Spacecraft operation would be affected. Increased drag, surface charging and orientation corrections may be required.

One note of interest,  the intense heat wave currently being experienced across the eastern half of the U.S. could play a large role on how this storm affects infrastructure. One of the last major power outages experienced in the NE U.S. was caused by a solar flare during a heat wave. The solar flare affected the power grid outside of Buffalo, NY. Power companies do have precautions in place against this kind of enhanced solar activity

Auroras have been spotted farther south than usual, but not as far south as Southwest Louisiana.

The sun is entering a 12 year period of enhanced solar flare activity. During that period of heightened activity, events like the one expected Friday will occur with more frequency that in the recent past.

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