The worst solar storm to hit the planet earth in seven years caused a “pretty good shock” to the planet’s magnetic field early Thursday, but its severity … at least initially … was less than geometric forecasters had predicted.
“All told, it’s not a terribly strong event,” physicist Leonard Hofstadter of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said Thursday.
Okay … Leonard Hofstadter didn’t really say that. He’s a sitcom physicist. A real physicist named Joe Kunches actually said that.
Of course the planet isn’t out of the woods yet …
“It could get worse,” Kunches said.
Wait … what?
We’re not experts on these matters (okay … every so often we are), but it seems to us that a coronal mass ejection (a.k.a. the sun’s decision to spontaneously emit billions of charged particles out into the solar system) isn’t the sort of thing that people living on earth want to “get worse.”
Assuming it does, though, there could be semi-serious to very serious problems affecting airplanes, power stations, satellites and other integral components of earth’s infrastructure.
What sort of problems? A worst case scenario involves tens of millions of Americans being left without power for an extended period of time. So far, though, the only real consequences have been a few rerouted airplanes – and a little extra travel time for some travelers.
Solar storms are ranked in severity from S1 to S5 – with the last “super storm” striking the planet in 1921.
Our sun is a yellow dwarf star located within the inner rim of the Orion Arm of the Milky Way galaxy. A mixture of plasma and magnetic energy, it fuses 620 million metric tons of hydrogen each second.