Weather

No, there isn't a solar storm headed to Earth today

While a number of articles point to an approaching solar storm, NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center forecasts put probabilities around 1%

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A solar flare erupted on July 3 causing brief radio blackouts when it reached Earth 8 mintues later.
By
Tony Rice
, NASA Ambassador
You may have seen recent predictions of a severe solar storm heading for Earth at “1.6 million kilometers per hour” Tuesday. Articles in the Times of India, Hindustan Times, and Indian Express describe disruptions in radio communications, communications and GPS satellites, and the power grid including overloading transformers.
Yahoo! News goes on to note NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) in Boulder, Colorado has "rated the solar storm at X1 level."
Impacts to communications, navigation and power systems can and do happen, but the X1 solar flare mentioned here happened last week. It was rated a strong event rather than the severe event described in these articles.

The severe conditions described in these articles occur only about 8 times on average during each 11 year solar cycle. They also only affect the side of the Earth facing the Sun and only for an hour two two, even at the levels described.

What's really happening

Atmospheric Imaging Assembly telescope/94 Angstrom channel, which shows solar material at about 10 million degrees Fahrenheit. Credits: NASA/SDO
A pair of radio blackouts occurred on July 3, the result solar flares, both from the same region of the Sun. The stronger of the two flares, classified X1.5 by NASA and the SWPC and observed by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, was the strongest flare in about 4 years.
New Region 2838 produced an impulsive X1 flare (R3 - Strong Radio Blackout) at 14:29 UTC on 03 July. This sunspot region developed overnight and was also responsible for an M2 flare (R1 - Minor Radio Blackout) at 07:17 UTC on 03 July.

The flare was strong enough to cause disruption to high-frequency radio communications on the sunlit side of the Earth.

But that was last week. The energy released by a solar flare travels at the speed of light, or about 8.3 minutes to Earth.

The Space Weather Prediction Center, not unlike their more terrestrial colleagues in the National Weather Service also issues watches (possible space weather activity with a lead-time of hours to days) and warnings (a significant space weather event is occurring, imminent or likely). No watches or warnings have been issued by the SWPC since July 1 when readings of the Planetary K-index, a measure of geomagnetic disturbances, exceeded the lowest threshold indicating moderate magnetic changes, still a step below even a minor storm.

The latest forecast shows a 1 percent chance for radio blackouts or solar radiation storms. Current and predicted Planetary K-index levels are also well below the levels prompting the July 1 warning.

The forecast through the first week of August describes "very low levels" of solar activity and the Earth's geomagnetic field at "quiet to active levels." That's far below levels that might trigger space weather storm warnings or watches.

No space weather storms have been observed or are predicted in the past or next 24 hours according to the latest report from the SWPC.

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 Credits

Tony Rice, Reporter

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