The Worst Solar Flare in 20 Years Could Cause Widespread Failure Throughout Power and Communication Networks

By: Stephanie Bontorin | Published: May 10, 2024

A new warning has come in from scientists after a massive geomagnetic storm is predicted to hit Earth. 

Large solar flares have caused power and communication issues in the past. The large incoming solar storm is feared to cause widespread outages.

Widespread Disruptions Are Predicted

A recent warning of solar activity alerted a flurry of sunspots and flares. The sun’s geomagnetic force often causes issues with communications and satellite operations on Earth.

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The sun appears distorted over a large range of mountains

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The sunspot cluster is known as NOM region 3664, an area 16 times larger than Earth.

Severe Storm Watch Has Been Issued

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) recently sent out a warning for a severe (G4) geomagnetic storm.

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A close up view of the sun emitting powerful red flares of light

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The sun flares are the worst since January 2005, when power outages and satellite disruptions were reported around the globe. The storm is predicted to begin tonight and occur well through the morning.

What Is a Geomagnetic Storm?

According to NOAA, a geomagnetic storm is a major disturbance of the planet’s magnetosphere. It occurs when energy or solar flares disrupt the atmosphere on Earth. Large storms on the Sun’s surface often cause these storms.

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Two bolts of lightning emit from a dark purple cloud

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The impacts on Earth can vary due to the intensity of the storms, but in general, anything controlled through electricity can be affected by a change in magnetic pull.

Common Disruptions From Geomagnetic Storms

Some issues predicted to occur from the changes in the atmosphere are issues with power grids, satellite disruptions, and radio blackouts.

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Large power lines standing in three rows against a red sunset

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All new and old technology depends on some part of magnetic waves. GPS navigation and radio are two technologies that heavily depend on radio waves to operate.

The Storm Has Caused Massive Solar Flares

The magnetic storm on the sun’s surface has also caused large solar flares and intense bursts of radiation associated with sunspots.

A large burst of red light surrounded by shadows

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Solar flares are large explosive events that can be seen easily from Earth. They can last minutes to hours and look like the Sun’s brightness has increased a few levels. Besides affecting magnetic pull and radio waves, the event is mostly harmless.

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Unexpected Benefit of the Solar Flares

The solar flares and satellite outages in the northern United States will have a small upside.

Purple and green lights illuminate the night sky

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In a rare occurrence, the aurora borealis will be visible from Alabama to northern California. The spectacular light show will be brought downward by the change in magnetic pull in the atmosphere for a once-in-a-lifetime event.

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The Storm Is Expected To Persist Throughout the Weekend

The Space Weather Prediction Center has identified five large solar flares and events that will occur throughout the weekend.

The sun shines above clouds

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The changes in the Sun’s visibility and issues with technology are expected to begin midday on May 10th and persist throughout the weekend.

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Coronal Mass Ejections Are Pedicted To Occur

Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) are large bursts of plasma and magnetic fields that can cause massive issues when they occur in the direct path of the Earth. 

The sun shines on a windy highway through a large mountainside

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Issues with satellite communications, navigation systems, and communications have been reported in the past. Governments and large communication networks have been urged to take precautions during the storm.

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Possible Electricity Outages Could Affect Residents

The Space Weather Center has also warned the rest of the U.S. to be on the lookout for possible issues with the electricity grid.

A close up view of the sun with large red, white, and yellow streams of light

Source: @sciencenoteblog/X

The solar flares can often spark issues with the magnetic fields around large electricity plants. Widespread voltage issues could surge during the storm and cause failure on large grids.

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All Spacecraft Operations Will Be Put On Hold

Earlier this week, Elon Musk and his team at SpaceX launched the Falcon 9 rocket to deposit several Starlink Satellites into the atmosphere. Luckily, they could complete the mission without interference from the geomagnetic storm. 

An aerial view of a large space center with a rocket and large buildings

Source: @NASAKennedy/X

However, this weekend, space exploration and travel will be put on hold due to recurring sun storms. Charging and tracking issues are also at risk during massive magnetic shifts.

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Last Storms of This Magnitude Caused Massive Outages

In October 2003, similar extreme storms with the same G4 rating occurred.

A large electricity transformer

Source: American Public Power Association/Unsplash

Mass power outages were reported throughout Sweden and the rest of Europe. As well, multiple power transformers were damaged in South Africa.

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