On this spookiest of weekends, you might experience flickering lights, weird noises on the radio or your GPS might be on the blink. It won't be due to supernatural shenanigans, however, but a powerful eruption on the Sun that means a solar storm is heading our way.
On October 28, our star released an X-1 class flare, the most intense class on the scale, and it's directed right at Earth. This has caused a small solar storm at higher latitudes and a strong radio event that slammed into our planet right around South America. However, it was accompanied by a coronal mass ejection (CME) that is going to shower Earth with energetic particles over the next couple of days, and this may cause some disruptions.
Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. They can't pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically hit humans on the ground but they can disturb the atmosphere where GPS and communication signals travel.
The brunt of it is expected to arrive on October 30 (spreading into Oct 31), according to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, which is expecting a G3 geomagnetic storm; a mid-level classification corresponding to a strong geomagnetic storm. This means it may cause trouble with power systems on Earth, creating fluctuation that will require voltage corrections and might even trigger alarms on safety devices. On the plus side, we should get some spectacular auroras.
In space, the wave of particles will affect satellites in multiple ways. The storm will affect the highest and most tenuous layers of our planet’s atmosphere, so there will be an increasing drag on low-Earth orbit spacecraft. The wave can also electrically charge the surface of satellites and mess with their orientation.
This can also complicate telecommunication and the many crucial everyday actions we take that depend on Earth's global network of satellites. For the fleet of global navigation satellite systems that power the maps in our phones, for example, this could lead to loss of signals as well as errors to where exactly you are. High-frequency communications are also likely to be affected by the storm.
Wait for itttttttt.
Every geomagnetic storm has a silver lining, and that comes in the form of the aurorae, the gorgeous northern and southern lights. We should be in for quite a show and they may even be visible (weather permitting) to those in the mid-latitudes. It's possible that northern lights might be seen as low as 50 degrees north of magnetic latitude, that’s as low as Pennsylvania in the US.
The activity has already begun, with the aurora forecast expecting an increase from tonight, and NOAA expecting a milder geomagnetic storm continuing on October 31. With this X-class flare and the previous one that reached Earth in July, Solar Cycle 25 is proving to be quite lively already, and it won't reach peak activity until 2025.