SURPRISE solar storm! G4-class geomagnetic storm hits the Earth, strongest in 6 years

The Earth has been hit with a surprise solar storm that no forecaster was able to see. The resultant effect was a severe G4-class geomagnetic storm. Know its impact.

| Updated on: Mar 24 2023, 14:24 IST
NASA: From Solar Winds, Solar Flares to CME, check how solar phenomena impact Earth
Solar Storm
1/5 The harrowing thing is that it will not just be China that would be affected by such a devastating solar storm. (NASA)
Solar Storm
2/5 Solar Flares: Solar flares are photon flares emitted from the Sun which travel from the flare site. They are rated on the basis of their intensity with the highest being an X-rated solar flare. It can cause power and radio blackouts and are responsible for the stunning phenomenon known to us as the Northern Lights or Auroras. (NASA/SDO)
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3/5 Coronal Mass Ejections (CME): CMEs are massive plasma clouds carrying photons that are ejected from the Sun. CME occurs during the solar cycle and is at peak in the middle of the cycle. (NASA)
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4/5 Solar Winds: Solar winds are high speed winds coming from holes in the Sun called Coronal holes. These holes can form anywhere on the surface of the Sun. If these solar winds prevail near the solar equator, they can cause impact on Earth, according to NASA. (Pixabay)
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5/5 Solar Energetic Particles: Solar energetic particles are emitted from the Sun during Coronal Mass Ejections. These are charged particles; hence they follow the magnetic field lines between the Sun and the Earth and if they pass the magnetic fields near Earth, they have an impact. (NASA)
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Know all about the surprise solar storm that struck the Earth yesterday, March 23. (Pixabay)

For a couple of days, the Earth has been awaiting the solar winds that were released from a massive coronal hole in the atmosphere of the Sun. There were some concerns that a solar storm event so close to the vernal equinox (spring equinox) could give rise to an extremely powerful storm, and it turns out the fears were not unfounded. Yesterday night, March 23, huge amounts of solar winds entered the upper atmosphere of the Earth through a crack open in the planet's magnetic field and sparked a severe G4-class geomagnetic storm, the strongest seen in six years. And surprisingly, no forecaster picked up on this development.

The incident was reported by which noted on its website, “orecasters completely missed this one. On March 23-24, auroras spread into the United States as far south as Colorado and New Mexico during a severe (category G4) geomagnetic storm--the most intense in nearly 6 years. The cause of the storm is still unclear; it may have been the ripple effect of a near-miss CME on March 23rd.”.

G4-class geomagnetic storm strikes the Earth

It is not known why the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA forecasters were not able to pick up on this incoming solar winds but the event went undetected for several hours till disturbance in the upper atmosphere of the higher latitudes. The entire solar storm event stayed for 8 hours.

According to reports, the storm peaked at an intensity of G4-class, which is extremely strong. In fact, such a strong solar storm has not been seen in six years.

A G4-class geomagnetic storm can damage satellites and cause fluctuations in the power grids. Further, GPS disruptions and shortwave radio blackouts are also possible. Right now, we do not know about the full extent of the storm but astronomers are actively looking into it.

Tech behind solar observation

While many space agencies from NASA with its Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) keep track of Sun-based weather phenomena, one that particularly stands out is the DSCOVR satellite by NOAA. The satellite became operational in 2016 and tracks different measurements of the Sun and its atmosphere including temperature, speed, density, degree of orientation and frequency of the solar particles. The recovered data is then run through the Space Weather Prediction Center and the final analysis is prepared.

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First Published Date: 24 Mar, 14:20 IST