Scientists at the Space Weather Prediction Center, the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) agency that monitors the Earth’s space environment, have recorded a long series of solar eruptions or flares, technically defined as coronal mass ejections ( Cme), which occurred between 8 and 10 February, which could cause a geomagnetic storm on our planet. The alert, as reported on the US agency’s website, will be from today, Monday 12 February, until Wednesday 14 February. The phenomenon should be small, but there are various consequences it could cause on our planet: from interference with terrestrial technologies to the incredible spectacle of the Northern Lights, even at low latitudes.
What are coronal mass ejections
But what are CMEs? Why are they closely linked to geomagnetic storms? We asked the astrophysicist and science communicator Gianluca Masi: “The coronal mass ejection is a phenomenon related to the sun, which consists in the emission of material from a specific structure of our star, which is the solar corona. An emission which occurs in correspondence with phenomena, even violent, which occur on the external structure of the Sun, such as flares. In these cases, charged particles are emitted, such as electrons and protons, in jargon the so-called plasma, which then traveling through space can reach other celestial bodies, such as the Earth”.
The effects of geomagnetic storms
Charged particles coming from the Sun can alter the Earth’s magnetic field, giving rise to so-called magnetic storms. As specified in the alert from the Space Weather Prediction Center, which follows solar events in real time on its website and social channels, the incoming geomagnetic storm should be of level G1-G2, i.e. minor or moderate, but still capable of cause and interference with telecommunications, or electrical blackouts.
Moderate R2 radio blackout in progress (≥M5 – current: M6.5)
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Magnetic storms are classified by NOAA based on their intensity. It ranges from class G1, the lowest level, to level G5, the most intense. The effects on our planet can be multiple and obviously linked to the power of the phenomenon, as explained at Today.it from Gianluca Masi: “The aurora borealis are undoubtedly one of the most spectacular consequences linked to this complex relationship between the Earth and the interplanetary environment, in this case the Sun. But in addition to the auroras there are other, less pleasant effects: these phenomena can quietly affect radio transmissions, cause power outages and even some satellite problems.”
What are solar cycles and what effects can they have on the climate
Obviously the severity of the effects depends on the intensity of the phenomenon: in the case of a G1 level magnetic storm, the consequences will be minor, but with a G5 level one we could see serious interference with telecommunications, electrical blackouts and large-scale damage. “For this reason – concludes Masi – it is important to monitor solar activity, which reaches its maximum in this period, as happens regularly in the eleven-year cycle of our star. Keeping the complex phenomenology concerning the Sun under control can prove fundamental for predicting phenomena of this type”.