Upcoming Magnetic Storm Might Keep You Up At Night

Updated and corrected.

UPDATED – 3/11/18, 1:17 pm

A previous version of this story indicated that the upcoming solar event is a large magnetic storm, when in fact, it is a G1, the smallest classification for a geomagnetic storm and thus unlikely to interfere with any electrical equipment here. We also erroneously reported that the sun is entering an increased period of solar activity. We apologize for the errors, and we’ll be more careful going forward. Our thanks to those who offered corrections.

The Laboratory of X-Ray Astronomy of the Sun, a subdivision of the Spectroscopy department in the Lebedev Institute of the Russian Academy of Science issued a graph indicating  a small geomagnetic storm will take place on March 18. The upcoming storm is a G1, the smallest classification for a storm of this kind.

Intense solar events can send high levels of radiation, which interacts with our planet’s magnetosphere. “A geomagnetic storm is a major disturbance of Earth’s magnetosphere that occurs when there is a very efficient exchange of energy from the solar wind into the space environment surrounding Earth…The largest storms that result from these conditions are associated with solar coronal mass ejections (CMEs) where a billion tons or so of plasma from the sun, with its embedded magnetic field, arrives at Earth.” according to the Space Weather Prediction Center’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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The biggest solar storm on record was the Carrington Event, which hit Earth’s magnetosphere on September 1–2, 1859. Northern lights could be seen as far south as Hawaii and Cuba and the northern United States. Southern lights were reported as far north as Chile, according to Wikipedia. An unusually large CME roughly on the order of the Carrington Event happened on July 23, 2012, according to NASA’s Science Beta article “Near Miss: The Solar Superstorm of 2012,” that had the capability of disrupting power grids. It missed the Earth by a margin of about nine days. 

The activity coming this week is far smaller, and unlikely to have any effect on electrical or other equipment. There is a belief that storms of this nature can cause headaches, dizziness, and sleeplessness, although there doesn’t appear to be any scientific correlation. While there are no reports that this minor storm will cause a visible atmospheric display, stargazers should always remain vigilant for stellar sideshows.