The most powerful solar storm in twenty years has just occurred, generated from a large cluster of sunspots that produced five X-class solar flares and three coronal mass ejections that resulted in a weekend-long geomagnetic storm strong enough to cast aurorae as far south as Hawaii, and in the southern hemisphere as far north as Africa’s Namibia and Queensland in Australia.

On May 8 solar active region 13664, a cluster of sunspots with a length equal to roughly fifteen times the diameter of the Earth, produced an X-1.0-class solar flare, along with a number of other smaller M-class flares, projecting several coronal mass ejections (CME) toward Earth; the following day two more flares—X2.25 and X1.12-class in intensity—produced two more CMEs. The region’s flares then increased in intensity, with an X3.98-class erupting on May 10, and May 11 seeing an even stronger X-5.7-class flare.

The CMEs generated on May 8 reached Earth on May 10, sparking a weekend-long display of northern and southern lights in regions that hadn’t seen such displays in over a century: in Europe, aurorae were seen as far south as Cyprus, Portugal, Spain and even the Canary Islands; in Asia, China’s cities of Urumqi and Beijing were treated to the northern lights; and in North America, the aurora borealis appeared over Florida and Mexico, and even stretched as far south as the Bahamas and Hawaii, nearly four-fifths of the way to the equator.

 

In the southern hemisphere, aurora australis appeared as far north as Uruguay in South America, Namibia in Africa, and the city of Mackay in Australiaat a latitude of 21.14°S, Mackay is situated almost as far north as the Big Island of Hawaii is south.

Despite generating these widespread one-in-a-lifetime aurorae over the course of several days, no significant disruptions to energy grids were reported, despite the strength of this weekend’s geomagnetic disturbance being on-par with the 1989 storm that knocked out power across Quebec; having learned from the previous widespread outage, Canadian utility providers, as well as their counterpart in New Zealand, took steps to prevent such an occurrence.

However, limited disruptions to high-altitude satellites did occur, with global positioning system service disruptions causing brief suspensions to planting operations being carried out by GPS-guided agricultural equipment; customers for SpaceX’s Starlink satellite-based internet service experienced reduced connection strength; and on May 13 the main GOES East geostationary weather satellite, GOES-16, stopped transmitting data for two hours, with a second, 11-minute interruption occurring an hour later.

With the Sun coming off of two back-to-back cycles that saw record-low solar activity, a geomagnetic storm like this hasn’t occurred in twenty years, although this month’s storm was comparable in strength to the previous one: occurring over the course of late October and early November 2003, causing the planet’s magnetic field weakening by -422 nanoteslas (nT), compared to the May 2024 storm’s −412 nT.

For further perspective, these last two events were a little more than two-thirds of the strength of the power grid-busting 1989 storm (−589 nT), and only one-quarter of 1859’s Carrington Event, a geomagnetic superstorm estimated to have reached an intensity as deep as -1,750 nT.

Although it appears that infrastructure authorities are beginning to pay attention to the issue of solar storms, there is still more work to be done. The danger presented by these energetic particle tempests—along with what needs to be done to prepare for them—are outlined by Whitley in his 2012 ebook Solar Flares: What You Need to Know.

 
 
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4 Comments

  1. There is a theory that consciousness is limited not only to living beings, but also to inanimate ones. All physical objects of the Universe – planets, stars, galaxies – have a mind and “feel” the world around them. This concept, known as panpsychism, is not new, and has been around for thousands of years.

  2. We might have dodged a bullet on Tuesday, when an X-8.7+ erupted from the sunspot cluster that caused last weekend’s storm, the strongest flare so far this cycle (for comparison, the 1989 geomagnetic storm was associated with an X15-class flare).

    Fortunately, the flare occurred just as the cluster was rotating over the the far side of the sun, so any CME that might have been produced isn’t coming our way. Also, the X8.7 rating is considered to be an under-estimation of the flare’s intensity, since part of the burst was blocked by the edge of the sun as the cluster rotated out of view.

    https://www.spaceweather.com/archive.php?view=1&day=15&month=05&year=2024

    1. We’ve been extremely lucky since the Carrington Event. About 12 years ago, I even spoke to our IT guy at work about it, and asked if this kind if thing was even on the county’s radar. His eyes got big, and he stated “No”, but agreed that it probably should be. The world’s infrastructure is at serious risk, and we could be knocked back into the Stone Age.

      Years ago, Robert Schoch wrote an excellent book about the history of solar activity and how it may affected human civilization in the past, ‘Forgotten Civilization-New Discoveries on the Solar-Induced Dark Age’. As a matter of fact, I should probably read it again.

      I may be wrong, but it seems like years ago Unknown Country tracked solar activity on the site, but there have been warnings recently:

      https://www.unknowncountry.com/headline-news/the-current-solar-cycle-is-far-stronger-than-forecast-and-may-see-record-breaking-activity/

      https://www.unknowncountry.com/headline-news/our-unstable-sun/

  3. From https://spaceweather.com/
    TODAY…….

    THE FLARES WILL CONTINUE UNTIL MORALE IMPROVES: A new source of solar flares is emerging over the sun’s southeastern limb. This morning at 0837 UT, it emitted a dramatic X2.9-class explosion, shown here in a movie from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory:

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