A strong solar flare increases the chances of northern lights in local latitudes as much as they have not for a long time. At the same time, the particles could also affect technical systems when they arrive. The so-called flare from Thursday evening reached the highest category X. On the five-part US Weather Agency NOAA warning scale the measured value X 1.0 corresponds to level R 3 (strong).
Great chance of northern lights
According to the current state of knowledge, the eruption took place relatively centrally on the visible solar disk, the associated mass ejection of the sun is therefore on its way towards the earth, explains a spokesman for Wetteronline. Even if it was weaker than the X-Class flare from the summer, its consequences could still be severe, since the July 3 outbreak was not aimed so precisely at Earth.
The resulting plasma cloud According to him, it should reach the earth from late Friday evening to Saturday evening. However, the weather will not be ideal everywhere to be able to observe the northern lights that may appear. The best the conditions are, the further east you are: “In the western half, on the other hand, the sky is mostly completely overcast.”
NOAA has one Warning of a possible magnetic storm of class G3 (strong) released. In recent years, such events have become rare due to the low level of solar activity. To find stronger events, one has to go way back: the most recent Class 4 magnetic storm occurred in September 2017, the most recent Class 5 event in August 2005.
So-called flares always only last a few minutes, but the amount of energy usually radiated by the sun increases sharply in the form of X-rays and hard UV radiation, with strong outbreaks by more than a hundred times. The radiation causes the ionization of the uppermost layers of the atmosphere to increase suddenly, but this primarily affects the shortwave propagation, but can also affect the accuracy of GPS location determinations, for example.
If, as has now happened, a plasma cloud is also ejected, it will travel much more slowly. Because of this, warnings can be sent days in advance. These particles primarily influence the magnetic field and cause, for example, geomagnetic storms and thus also northern lights. In the medium term, high solar activity leads to an increase in temperature of the uppermost atomic spherical layers, which leads to their expansion. Low-flying satellites are therefore slowed down more strongly by air molecules in years of high solar activity.
Drastic consequences possible
The flare now observed is the second large one in the current 25th solar cycle, which began last year and followed one of the weakest since the beginning of systematic observations in the 18th century. The next maximum of the roughly eleven-year cycle is expected sometime between November 2024 and March 2026. Phases of high activity of the sun are accompanied by such outbursts of particles and radiation, which can have severe consequences, mainly due to the advancing mechanization.
Just a few weeks ago, a researcher warned that particularly strong solar flares could have dramatic consequences for the world’s Internet infrastructure and could trigger an “Internet apocalypse”. The risk is therefore particularly great for the most important submarine cables. Serious consequences are only threatened with events that fall into the highest level 5 according to the NOAA classification.