One of the largest solar flares of the current cycle erupted last night and has produced a solar storm that is headed towards Earth.
NASA projects the storm will reach Earth at or about 1:25 EST Thursday morning and could result in a "severe" geomagnetic storm.
The Space Weather Prediction Center has issued several alerts in connection with Tuesday night's solar flare eruption.
According to the NOAA NWS Space Weather Prediction Center Facebook page, today was a "remarkable" day for space weather:
"Not only did we observe R3 - Radio Blackout storms due to a solar flare, but we are currently at S1 Solar Radiation storm levels. On top of this, the CME from the solar flare on 04 March arrived here at Earth around 0427 Z with G1 Geomagnetic Storm levels. This means almost every type of warning, alert, and watch that SWPC forecasters issue were issued today."
A CME or Coronal Mass Ejection is a cloud of electrified, magnetic gas hurled into space at speeds as fast as 2,000 kilometers per second. When these CMEs strike Earth’s magnetic field, magnetic storms can result. The March 6 flare resulted in a CME which forecasters expect to reach Earth on March 8 or March 9.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, solar physicist Alex Young said when the material from the coronal mass ejection hits the Earth’s magnetic field -- or magnetosphere -- it causes the field to “ring like a bell,” or oscillate. The electrical currents generated by the oscillation move around in the upper atmosphere and can cause currents on the ground capable of disrupting power grids and affecting GPS and radio communications.
A storm watch issued Wednesday evening by the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) advised the impact area (primarily poleward of 50 degrees Geomagnetic Latitude) could experience power system voltage irregularities, false alarms on some protection devices, intermittent satellite navigation problems and other disturbances.
Scientists with the SWPC warn the region from which the flare erupted (region 1429) remains "potent" and that more activity is possible. Furthermore, that region, according to a Discovery News report, is shifting in a way that may result in flares and CMEs being pointed more directly at Earth.
"Think of these CMEs somewhat like a bullet that is shot from the sun in more or less a straight line," astrophysicist Harlan Spence said in a Discovery News interview. "When the sunspot is right in the middle of the sun, something launched from there is more or less directed right at Earth. It's kind of like how getting sideswiped by a car is different than a head-on collision."
Though Tuesday's flare may result in some issues, there is a bright side. Areas in the northern parts of the United States may get the chance to see auroras related to the storm. Space Weather Message Code WATA50 advises auroras may be seen as far south as Pennsylvania to Iowa to Oregon.
Visit the Space Weather Prediction Center website for updates on the storm.