The Space Weather Prediction Center of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is telling sky-watchers to be on alert this week, as all signs point towards a coronal mass ejection hitting the Earth and likely producing awesome auroras right across Canada this Thursday and Friday.
“The G1 (Minor) Geomagnetic Storm Watch has been extended to include 13 and 14 October 2016 due to the anticipated arrival of the 09 October coronal mass ejection,” says the NOAA in a release.
Coronal mass ejections are huge releases of solar gas, plasma and electromagnetic radiation from the Sun -in the range of ten billion tonnes of solar matter spewed out at one time, roughly the power of a billion hydrogen bombs.
The released energy spreads out across space as it travels away from the Sun at up to 3,000 km per second, taking anywhere from 15 hours to a couple of days to reach the Earth. Once having arrived, however, coronal mass ejections run up against the Earth’s magnetic field, the magnetosphere, which acts like a shield protecting the Earth from high energy particles and radiation such as those produced by a coronal mass ejection.
“CMEs are huge events,” says Dr. Jeffrey Newmark, Solar Physics Scientist in NASA’s Heliophysics Division. “They have been hitting Earth since it formed and will continue to hit our planet. Every few weeks a CME hits our planet but they have been small and have relatively little impact.”
The one coming up this week is thought to be a direct hit on Earth yet categorized as minor, predicted to produce a remarkable light show in the form of auroras (the Northern Lights in the northern hemisphere) but likely not much more.
What could ‘more’ entail, you ask?
Direct hits from coronal mass ejections have the power to knock out satellites, disrupt radio transmissions and cause electrical outages on a global scale. About 30 CME’s hit the Earth every year, with varying degrees of strength. The largest of recent history was the Solar Super Storm of 1859, which produced auroras as far south as El Salvador – in some places, bright enough to read by in the dead of night – and caused telegraph systems to fail.
Of course, the 1850s were less technology-dependent times. Experts state that a CME of similar magnitude and effect hitting the Earth today would be catastrophic, likely wiping out all communications and modern energy production and consumption.
“It could essentially shut down the Industrial Revolution,” says ecology.com’s Weather Ecology Specialist, Frank Billingsley. “If so much of our technology and electrical systems along with the plants that supply them are shut down, then we are going to go back to the time of the Industrial Revolution.”
Which is why an international team of scientists are proposing the creation of outer space protection shield to keep us safe from possible calamities such as asteroids and coronal mass ejections. As reported in the Telegraph, the project is led by Russian scientist and Chairman of UNESCOs Science of Space committee, Dr. Igor Ashurbeyli, and also calls for the birth of a new political space-state, called Asgardia, which would serve all of humanity by encouraging peaceful development and innovation in outer space. “Asgardia is a fully-fledged and independent nation, and a future member of the United Nations – with all the attributes this status entails,” says Dr Ashburbeyli.