Largest Solar Storm In 20 Years Brings Spectacular Northern Lights And Potential Disruptions

A massive solar storm, the largest in 20 years, is expected to cause communications disruptions across the globe while also providing stunning views of the Northern Lights. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a geomagnetic storm watch in response to the solar flares that began on Wednesday.

According to NOAA, the flares are associated with a sunspot believed to be 16 times the diameter of the Earth. The organization initially reported evidence of a “major disturbance in Earth’s magnetic field” but later elevated their projection to G5 the highest level for solar storms.

The solar eruptions, known as coronal mass ejections, send streams of cosmic particles into space that collide with Earth’s atmosphere. NOAA warned of potential widespread voltage control problems, protective system issues, and even complete grid system collapses or blackouts.

While the Northern Lights are typically visible in regions closer to the northern pole, the size of these solar flares means the atmospheric marvel could be seen as far south as California and Alabama. Space weather forecaster Bill Murtagh described the event as the Sun “shooting a magnet out into space.”

NOAA advises the public to stay properly informed of the storm’s progression throughout the weekend. The last solar storm of similar magnitude occurred in October 2003 resulting in damaged transformers in South Africa and power outages in Sweden.

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