— Dr. Tamitha Skov (@TamithaSkov) October 26, 2016
If your iPhone, GPS or computer are acting up, you are not alone.
A huge mass of plasma with its embedded magnetic field shot from the sun this week and caused a moderate-level geomagnetic storm. This coronal mass ejection (CME) arrived October 25 and will likely continue to disrupt navigation and the power grid for a couple more days, according to the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center.
Solar winds happen frequently. Sunspots regularly appear on the sun’s surface, eventually erupting and sending a cloud of plasma into space. When the coronal hole, or hole in the sun’s surface where it comes from, is facing the Earth, our planet stands in the line of fire, so to speak.
As the cloud of billions of plasma particles arrives, their magnetic charge interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field, resulting in interruptions or failures in satellite and radio signals and more.
This week’s geomagnetic storm prompted PJM Interconnection LLC and Midcontinent Independent System Operator, two of the largest power grid-related companies in North America, to issue warnings about possible problems.
The intensity of these particular solar winds was initially thought to be a G3-level storm, which is considered serious. However, it was lowered to a G2, or moderate-level watch.
Despite a few inconveniences, the severity of this week’s solar storm is relatively mild. In April 2012, a huge CME with potential to knock out the Earth’s power for months barely missed our planet.
Solar storms aren’t all bad news for us, though. Those of us who live in certain parts of the northern hemisphere, the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights can shine so brightly that they can be seen from as far south as New York, Ohio, and Indiana.
For the rest of us, just know that this, too, shall pass. A little bit of inconvenience is all part of our galactic journey around the sun.
Author: Amanda Christmann
Editor: Caitlin Oriel