Geomagnetic storms are on a pathway to the Earth, with disruption of satellite-based systems and power grids likely, along with Northern Lights displays, following intense solar flare activity, according to the National Weather Service(NOAA).
Sunspot AR 1158 unleashed the first of three flares on Sunday, Feb. 13. There was an even bigger ejection on Monday, the biggest solar flare in more than four years. Coronal mass ejections (CMEs), or giant clouds of plasma, are likely to follow, causing geomagnetic storms that can knock out satellite-based systems and create aurora borealis displays.
NOAA's Space Weather Center issues alerts to industries that may be affected by the geomagnetic storms.
"These alerts are sent out to electricalpower grid companies, airlines, GPS, military, ocean shipping routes, just to name a few industries that may be affected by the impacts of a solar flare and associated coronal mass ejection (CME) like the one we just had," Phil Chamberlin from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory told SPACE.com.
On Tuesday, shortwave radio communication systems were disrupted in southern China and auroras were seen in parts of the northern hemisphere, including Northern Ireland. The storm affected the Earth's ionosphere in China, which is crucial for shortwave radio systems to work properly.
Further Northern Lights displays are predicted in northern areas of the United Kingdom on Thursday and Friday night, according to the British Geological Survey, and some localized areas in North America, such as the Great Lakes, New England and New York.
NOAA’s Space Weather Center says that three geomagnetic storms were generated by Sunday's massive solar flare.
“The first interplanetary shock, driven by the CME from Sunday, is expected any time,” the center said on its website, adding that the storm ratings (G1 to G5) could be significant. “Soon thereafter, the shock from Monday evening's R3/CME is due. Look for G1-G2 (and maybe periods of G3 if the following shock compresses and enhances the CME magnetic field).”
“Geomagnetic storming should persist 24-48 hours. Back at the Sun, Region 1158 is still hot and fast-growing, Region 1161 is producing small flares,” the center added.
According to the latest update from the center on Feb. 17, further flares are likely with an associated geomagnetic storm possible on Friday, Feb. 18.
“Solar activity is expected to be moderate with M-class activity likely and a slight chance for an isolated X-class event for the next three days (18-20 February),” the website said.
“The geomagnetic field is expected to be active with a chance for isolated minor storm periods" for Friday, Feb. 18, the website said.
"This activity is due to the effects of two CMEs; the first associated with an M6 event at 13/1735Z and the second associated with an X2 event at 15/0156Z. Quiet to active conditions are expected for day two [Saturday, Feb. 19] as the effects of these disturbances wane,” it added.