A solar storm is now bombarding Earth’s magnetic field this weekend, but scientists say not to worry, this will not be the cataclysmic event that changes life as we know it in 2012.
It was due to arrive Saturday morning and will last through Sunday, slamming into Earth’s magnetic field, but it’s considered a minor event even though the major power grid operations, airlines and other potentially affected parties have been notified.
“This isn’t the mother of all anything,” said forecaster Joe Kunches at the government’s Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo. “We don’t see any ill effects to any systems.”
The storm began Thursday when the sun unleashed a massive flare that hurled a cloud of highly charged particles racing toward Earth at 3 million mph. It was the sixth time this year that such a powerful solar outburst has occurred; none of the previous storms caused major problems.
In severe cases, solar storms can cause power blackouts, damage satellites and disrupt GPS signals and high-frequency radio communications. Airlines are sometimes forced to reroute flights to avoid the extra radiation around the north and south poles brought on by solar storms.
The storm is part of the sun’s normal 11-year cycle of solar activity, which is supposed to reach peak storminess next year.
There’s a bright side to stormy space weather: It tends to spawn colorful northern lights as the charged particles bombard Earth’s outer magnetic field. Shimmering auroras may be visible at the United States-Canada border and northern Europe this weekend, Kunches said.