When you think of weather, chances are you might imagine a blizzard or a rainstorm. But just like the Earth, space has its own weather. It may sound like fiction, but space weather is very real, and it includes phenomena like solar wind and solar storms, which are pretty common. In fact, a solar storm is forecast for today, March 14th. But what exactly is it, and is it dangerous?
Basically, a solar storm is when a magnetic eruption, called a solar flare or a coronal mass ejection, takes place in the sun’s atmosphere. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, these solar flares cause charged particles to reach speeds up to one-third the speed of light. Protons traveling extra-fast can reach the Earth’s surface in just half an hour.
Can a solar storm cause damage?
If a solar storm hits Earth, it can wreak havoc on electrical grids and satellites. Some of the effects include extra currents along power lines and widespread power outages. Radio waves and GPS signals can also be disrupted by the energy from this phenomenon.
But solar storms aren’t all bad.
They’re also responsible for the Aurora Borealis — aka the Northern Lights. The same charged particles that result in solar flares can cause the spectacular light show to be visible at lower elevations than normal.
And, just like storms here on Earth, solar storms have different levels of severity.
Scientists classify these space storms on a scale of G1 (minor) to G5 (extreme). The solar storm predicted for today, March 14th, is categorized as a G1, so while some weak power grid fluctuations are possible, the most noticeable effect will be visible Northern Lights in places like Michigan and Maine.
Like any kind of weather, scientists are getting better and better at predicting when a solar storm will hit and taking precautions against it. And thankfully, while they may sound scary, these space storms won’t cause sci-fi levels of destruction. A 2013 NASA article reassures that no matter how strong they are, solar flares cannot destroy Earth. So if conditions are looking stormy on the sun, just keep calm and carry on.