A strong geomagnetic storm is on its way to Earth this week after two solar flares erupted from a sunspot region pointed almost directly at Earth. The second of the two was a low-end X-class flare — the most intense type of flare on the classification scale. While the solar storm headed our way may affect power lines, radio transmissions, communication systems and satellites to a small degree, scientists say it's nothing to worry about.
Geomagnetic storms of this magnitude are not uncommon, but the current solar cycle, in which we are near the maximum, has been relatively quiet. Tom Berger, director of the Space Weather Prediction Center, estimates that a G3-level storm occurs about once a month in the more active, 11-year solar cycles.
Due to these significant solar events, two waves of highly energized solar material from the eruptions have traveled our way and are now expected to impact the Earth. In fact, the National Weather Service has issued a "geomagnetic" storm watch until Saturday, Sept. 13.
While high frequency radio transmissions in aircraft will likely be impacted, scientists do not expect any other major infrastructure effects, like power grid perturbations or satellite anomalies.
"Geomagnetic storms can cause some problems for the (power) grid but are typically very manageable," Bill Murtagh, space weather forecaster for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told USA Today. "We may also see some anomalies with satellites so satellite operators around the world have been notified. And problems with the accuracy of GPS have been observed with this level of storming."
Minor issues aside, radiation from solar flares can't pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically harm humans and these recent storms should not endanger satellites and astronauts in space, Space.com reported.
There may even be an upside to the solar storm. Scientists say we may see an increase in beautiful auroral displays in the sky.