Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are huge bursts of plasma and magnetic fields that are ejected from the Sun’s atmosphere. They can travel at speeds of up to several million kilometers per hour and carry billions of tons of solar material. When they reach Earth, they can interact with the planet’s magnetic field and cause geomagnetic storms, which can disrupt satellite communications, GPS navigation, power grids and radio signals. CMEs can also trigger spectacular auroras or northern lights at high latitudes.
Multiple CMEs heading towards Earth
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Sun has recently produced multiple CMEs that are heading towards Earth. The first one was detected on August 1, 2023, and was associated with a large sunspot group named AR3190, which has been one of the biggest and most active sunspots in recent years. The second one was detected on August 2, 2023, and was related to a smaller sunspot group named AR3191. Both CMEs were classified as X-class, which are the most powerful category of solar flares.
The NOAA has issued a warning for a strong geomagnetic storm that is expected to hit Earth on August 3, 2023. The storm could reach a level of G3 on the five-point scale, which means it could cause some moderate effects on Earth’s systems. The NOAA has advised people to be prepared for possible blackouts, delays or errors in satellite-based services such as mobile phones, GPS and internet. The NOAA has also said that there is a chance of seeing auroras as far south as New York and Chicago in the US, and London and Paris in Europe.
How to protect yourself from solar storms?
While solar storms are not directly harmful to humans on the ground, they can pose some risks to people who are exposed to high altitudes or who have pacemakers or other medical devices. To protect yourself from solar storms, you should:
- Avoid flying during periods of high solar activity, especially over polar regions where the radiation exposure is higher.
- Check the status of your electronic devices before using them and have backup plans in case they fail or malfunction.
- Stay away from power lines and transformers that could be damaged by surges or fluctuations in the electric grid.
- Keep an eye on the space weather forecasts and alerts from the NOAA or other reliable sources.
- Enjoy the view of the auroras if you are lucky enough to see them, but do not look directly at the Sun or use any optical devices without proper protection.