Holey moly! Three holes have burst open on the sun hurtling geomagnetic storms towards Earth
The sun is up to old tricks again, having recently developed three new coronal holes. And it’s us Earthlings that are bearing the brunt, occupying a planet hit by geomagnetic storms.
While this might sound like I’m hailing the next rapture, I’m not. Solar holes aren’t uncommon, particularly given that we’re in the solar minimum – a stage in the sun’s 11-year activity cycle in which coronal holes are pretty regular.
But what are coronal holes? No, they’re not the place you retreat to after doing the Corona deal at Wetherspoons. Cosmically speaking, they’re open structures which allow solar winds to escape more readily. This, in turn, means that electromagnetic radiation can be blown towards Earth – if the hole is in the optimum position.
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Three such holes opened up on the sun last week, triggering a spate of solar winds in the direction of our humble planet. But before you start bidding your loved ones an eternal farewell, it’s worth noting that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has only released a G1 level solar storm watch – that’s lowest risk category. If they issued a G5 warning (category “extreme”), then there’d be more cause for concern; NOAA suggests there’d be widespread voltage control problems, with some grid systems breaking down completely and leading to blackouts. Remarkably, polar lights in G5 scenarios have been seen “as low as Florida and southern Texas”. Solar storms with a side of light show, then.
How are the effects of this imminent solar storm going to be felt? Minorly. We may suffer from some minor power grid fluctuations, as well as a tad of interference with satellite communication devices, such as GPS or satellite TV. No need to start digging that bunker then…
A lucky few among us might even profit from the geomagnetic storm; those at high latitudes may catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis (or australis), as charged particles emanating from the solar wind interact with the ionosphere (the level of atmosphere around 80 to 1,000km from Earth’s surface) to light up the skies.
Image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, used under Creative Commons