A geomagnetic storm watch has been issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) after the sun sent out an impressive solar flare on Feb. 21. Luckily for Americans, the storm won’t do any harm. The National Weather Service in New York City has been telling people to take precautions with their electronics and take outside cover if exposed to the sun’s colorful plasma.
The geomagnetic storm watch is in effect for Oct. 31 this year, though it is not an official precaution. Typically the National Weather Service issues the watch in early October. The science behind the seismic activity is somewhat mysterious, but experts say it isn’t harmful to humans or their equipment. The Sun is sending out a gigantic eruption of solar particles called a coronal mass ejection (CME) into the solar system. To fight against the powerful solar wind, a massive magnetic force is created in Earth’s magnetic field. Like an electric fence, the magnetic field wraps around the planet, which travels around the magnetic poles and protects our planet from the powerful solar wind. The flurry of particles that are sent out by the CME is why a watch is being issued in early October.
Solar flares generally come with harmless effects. Though some damage to satellites is possible, damage to communications systems is pretty unlikely. Some ground-based TV sets may temporarily lose power but most of the signal will come back shortly thereafter. There is a small chance some telescopes may experience more negative effects, though they typically lose more sensitivity over time.
Depending on how large the sun’s flare is, NOAA could issue a status alert. In some cases, a status alert can mean a precautionary warning like the one issued Friday. According to the NOAA, it would come with a warning about safe procedure for storing electronics and countermeasures, especially for farmers who rely on radio communication to coordinate work and work to be done.
To avoid power outages on Halloween, you should not touch any electrical devices, equipment and appliances that may lose power in a strong solar flare. Your favorite smartphone, portable DVD player, radio, fitness tracker, LED light, vaping device, Bluetooth speaker, radio or portable cell phone charger can be safe to handle.
While the earth will be protected from solar flare-related damage for now, we can expect more space activity in the coming weeks. NASA is monitoring the sun and predicts more space weather this spring.