Solar storm set to pummel Earth in hours after huge hole opens up in Sun

Solar storms are set to pummel Earth after a series of eruptions from the Sun sent plasma blasting toward the planet. 

The particles racing to Earth prompted NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Centre to issue a geomagnetic storm watch for Monday and Tuesday. 

During significant solar storms, power blackouts can occur and communications systems can be disrupted. A solar flare last month caused a “moderate” HF Radio Blackout Event on November 28 over part of the Pacific Ocean, according to NOAA. 

The storms on Tuesday will likely not cause disruptions but could make the aurora borealis – or Northern Lights – brighter and more visible further south.

Tuesday’s Geomagnetic Storm Watch warned of minor G1 level storms that are likely throughout the day. The series of storms on Monday and Tuesday were prompted by a coronal hole high-speed stream.

How does NOAA measure solar storms and flares? 

NOAA has a five-point scale for rating solar storms from G1 to G5. The storms on Tuesday are predicted to be G1 while those on Thursday could reach G2 levels.

Stronger storms can affect satellite navigation and low-frequency radio navigation but most don’t have much of an impact on the general public.

However, solar storms can increase the chance of seeing the aurora borealis, or the Northern Lights, further away from the North Pole.

Solar flares are measured in five categories with M-class and X-class being the strongest. An X-class flare can release as much energy as 1 billion atom bombs, according to NASA.

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What is a coronal hole high-speed stream? 

A coronal hole high-speed stream – which is the cause of the latest storms – is different from a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). Last week, that latter caused solar flares which triggered a G3 solar storm. 

While CMEs typically hit the Earth within one to three days, coronal holes can have delayed impacts.

A coronal hole appears as a large black area on the Sun’s surface because it lacks plasma which has instead travelled out into space. 

Because of the Sun’s spin, a coronal hole can sometimes hit the Earth twice – the Sun spins every 27 days meaning the coronal hole can strike the Earth in 27-day intervals. 

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