Solar Storms Could Hit Earth This Friday 13th

NASA/SDO. The X-Class solar flares have occurred this week.

The Sun has been unusually active this week and the product of all this excitement is anticipated to hit today/tomorrow, depending on where you are in the world.

However, even if you are the sort of person to be worried by dates like Friday the 13th, it seems the small amount of damage from this set of events has already been done. While geomagnetic storms from solar events can do plenty of harm, this one will only strike us a glancing blow, minimizing the consequences.

Solar storms come in two forms: flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs). Both involve the ejection of particles into space, but flares are much more local. By virtue of their large scale CMEs can do much more damage. To add to the confusion, CMEs usually, but not always, occur in conjunction with large flares. 

This week has seen three X-class flares, the most intense category, although the largest, at X2.2 was still only a tenth the size of the flare that occurred on April 2 2001, let alone events that predated our ability to measure them precisely. Whether such events do us any harm depend not only ont their size, but also on whether the Earth is in the path of the ejected particles.

One of this week's flares was associated with a CME. Spaceweather.com reports “At first it appeared that Earth was outside the line of fire, but a closer look at the CME reveals an Earth-directed component.” A small component of a not particularly large CME is not expected to do much damage, but should make a great display for those in a position to see aurora

The flares, on the other hand did cause three radio blackouts according to the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center

Solar activity, which appeared to have peaked in 2012 now seems to be having a second, slightly larger, peak as part of its regular cycle. Even adding the two together, however, this has been the smallest peak in the eleven year sunspot cycle for a century.

However, if you're just itching for storms large enough to do some damage you may yet be in luck. The NOAA notes there are currently 10 numbered sunspots, and that Active Region 2081, responsible for this week's events, remains active and reports, indicates a “moderate chance of X-class flares” over the next three days.

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