In 2020, Earth narrowly avoided the catastrophe


In August, the National Oceanic and the Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted that a powerful solar flare that had exploded from the Sun would hit the Earth’s magnetic field.

Panic ensued as news warned of this potentially catastrophic event, adding to the woes of the year 2020.

Inverse is counting down the 20 moments that changed the universe the most in 2020. This is number 19. See the full list here.

On August 16, NOAA spotted a solar flare erupting from the Sun’s surface. The slow-motion glow created a shock wave through the star’s atmosphere and sent a small ripple toward Earth’s magnetic field.

This coronal mass ejection from the Sun was not supposed to hit our planet head-on, but NOAA had predicted that it could graze our planet’s magnetic field. As a result, there was a real possibility that minor geomagnetic storms and high-latitude auroras would occur, sending our electronic systems into chaos.

Coronal mass ejections are highly energetic eruptions from the Sun and the main source of major space weather events.

A coronal mass ejection of 2015.Solar Dynamics Observatory, NASA

Essentially, they are giant bubbles of gas and magnetic flux released by the Sun, carrying up to one billion tons of charged particles and traveling at speeds of several million miles per hour. These clouds and the shock waves they cause occasionally reach Earth and cause geomagnetic storms.

Geomagnetic storms are the main disturbances of the Earth’s magnetosphere, the space surrounding our planet governed by our magnetic field. Storms sometimes cause beautiful auroras, but they can also cause disruptions in global navigation systems and power grids.

This particular coronal mass ejection is the result of a class B1 solar flare, which is quite weak compared to some explosive flares.

NOAA predicted that the resulting geomagnetic storm would be a G1 category, or a minor storm. Minor geomagnetic storms may have some effect on power grids and satellite operations, or they may have no effect.

Our Sun is an active star, periodically subject to events such as coronal mass ejections, high-speed solar wind and solar flares. These events are huge, but considering our distance from the host star, they don’t always impact us on Earth.

Something to keep in mind next time there is an upcoming solar flare. Don’t panic.

Inverse is counting down the 20 most universe-changing moments of 2020. This is number 20. Read the original story here.

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