Severe Solar Storm Impacts Tech: GPS, Satellites and More

NOAA Warns of Ongoing ‘Extreme’ Solar Storm: What You Need to Know

Following a night of dazzling auroras across large parts of the United States and Europe, an intense geomagnetic storm is expected to persist through the weekend. The US-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Prediction Center’s Space Weather Prediction Center announced “Extreme” G5 conditions on Saturday morning, attributing these to an increase in Solar activity. For instance, the threat of further potent flares and CMEs (coronal mass ejections) is anticipated until the large, magnetically complex sunspot cluster rotates out of sight in the coming days.

Impacts of the Solar Storm: A Mixed Bag

Friday night’s escalated Solar activity was a spectacle for many, with regions unaccustomed to the northern lights, including the US, Europe, and other areas, witnessing vibrant lights as energetically charged particles from the Solar storm passed through the Earth’s atmosphere. Consequently, the skies turned brilliantly pink as far south as Texas. With the forecast indicating continued Solar activity, another night of extended northern lights is possible on Saturday. However, the storm has also caused detrimental effects.

According to NOAA, irregularities in power grid transmissions have been recorded, alongside degraded satellite communications and GPS services. Moreover, users of SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet constellation have reported slower download speeds. In a tweet, SpaceX founder Elon Musk acknowledged that the company’s Starlink satellites were “under a lot of pressure, but holding up so far”.

Historical Context: The Most Intense Solar Storm in Over Two Decades

This is the most severe Solar storm recorded in more than 20 years. The last G5 event, the most extreme category of such storms, occurred in October 2003 when electricity issues were reported in Sweden and South Africa. Should this storm intensify over the next day or two, scientists warn of potential risks including more widespread power blackouts, disabled satellites, and long-term damage of GPS networks.

Understanding the Cause of Solar Storms

Solar storms are triggered when the Sun ejects a substantial amount of its magnetic field and plasma into the Solar wind. The underlying causes of these coronal mass ejections, deeper in the Sun, are not fully understood. However, data collected by NASA’s Parker Solar Probe and other observations aim to help scientists better comprehend and predict such phenomena. When these coronal mass ejections reach Earth’s magnetic field, they alter it and can introduce significant currents into electricity lines and transformers, leading to damages or outages.

Looking towards the future, it’s crucial to understand these Solar phenomena, not just for the spectacular light shows they produce, but for the potential disruptions they can cause to our increasingly technology-dependent world. As we continue to explore and harness the power of technology, our ability to predict and mitigate the effects of events like these will shape our resilience in the face of celestial challenges. The dynamic nature of technology, therefore, is not just about advancements on Earth, but also about understanding and managing our relationship with the cosmos.