No, there is no solar storm on its way to Earth today

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No, there is no solar storm on its way to Earth today

Posted on July 13, 2021 2:18 PM EDT
Updated July 13, 2021 2:59 PM EDT

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By Tony Rice, NASA Ambassador

You may have seen recent predictions of a severe solar storm heading toward Earth at “1.6 million miles per hour” Tuesday. Articles in the Times of India, Hindu Times, and Indian Express Describe disturbances in radio communications, communications and GPS satellites, and the power grid, including overload transformers.

Yahoo! News goes on to note that NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) in Boulder, Colorado “assessed the solar storm at an X1 level.”

Implications for communications, navigation and power systems can and do happen, but the X1 solar flare mentioned here happened last week. It was a strong event rated rather than the serious event described in these articles.

The severe conditions described in these articles only occur on average about 8 times during every 11-year solar cycle. They also only affect the side of the Earth that faces the sun and only for an hour two two, even at the levels described.

A solar flare erupted on July 3, causing brief radio jamming when it reached Earth 8 minutes later.

A few radio outages occurred on July 3rd, the result of solar flares, both from the same area of ​​the sun. The strongest of the two flares, classified as X1.5 by NASA and the SWPC and observed by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, was the strongest flare in about 4 years.

NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center reported radio jamming due to a solar flare on July 3, 2021 2021

The eruption was strong enough to disrupt high-frequency radio communications on the sunlit side of the Earth.

But that was last week. The energy released by a solar flare travels to Earth at the speed of light, or about 8.3 minutes.

The Space Weather Prediction Center, not unlike their more terrestrial counterparts in the National Weather Service, also issues watches (potential space weather activity with a lead time of hours to days) and alerts (a significant space weather event is imminent, imminent or likely) . The SWPC has not issued any watches or warnings since July 1 when the readouts of the Planetary K Index, a measure of geomagnetic disturbances, crossed the lowest threshold, indicating moderate magnetic changes, still a step below even a minor storm.

The latest forecast shows a 1 percent chance of radio outages or solar radiation storms. Current and forecast Planetary K Index levels are also well below the levels that triggered the July 1 warning.

The forecast through the first week of August describes “very low levels” of solar activity and the Earth’s magnetic field at “quiet to active levels.” That’s well below the level that could trigger space storm warnings or watches.

According to the latest SWPC report, no space storms have been observed or predicted in the past or next 24 hours.

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