Strong Solar Storms Pummeling Earth

UPDATED: Satellite communications at risk from a rare G-3 solar storm now hitting earth. And another one is due later this weekend.

A powerful solar storm, characterized as "serious" by NOAA is currently hitting the earth with its full fury. The storm, given a G-3 rating, hit around 11:30am EDT, and is expected to last between 12 to 24 hours.

"The primary concern with a storm like this," explained Larry Combs, a Space Weather Forecaster at NOAA, "are your satellite hook-ups." Communications satellites, used to relay phone, data and TV traffic can experience a number of problems. "They can experience a surface charging that affects the satellite components," or they can actually be nudged out of orbit by the solar buffeting. "With this storm, I would predict some periodic glitches in satellite communications," Combs warns.

NOAA, which tracks sunspots and other solar activities, has rated the storm G-3 on its severity scale—which extends from G-1 (Minor) to G-5 (Extreme). A strong, or G-3 type storm could trigger alarms on some power-system protection devices, and interfere with satellites, navigation and high-frequency radio waves.

So far, NOAA has received reports from power companies noticing the effect of the storm—although its not likely to bring down any electrical grids.

And another storm is on the way, due to hit Saturday or Sunday. How strong will it be? "Were not sure of the intensity," predicts Combs, but thinks itll be similar to todays storm. Even if its no more powerful, the results can build up on sensitive space equipment. "They experience a blast, and then another blast, it can be a cumulative effect."

These types of storms can be common during the peak of the solar season—which last happened in 2000—but were considered much less likely to occur three years later. Two sequential storms of this magnitude, this late in the cycle are "an unusual occurrence", says Combs. The most pronounced effects are expected in the higher latitudes, above a line drawn from about Oregon, through Illinois and on to upstate New York.

Even so, theyre not nearly as powerful as a G-5 storm, which only occurs a few times during the peak of the 11-year solar cycle. "They are extreme, and can collapse power grids and drop satellites out of the sky," warns Combs. But from every indication, these two storms will not be nearly as bad.

However, if you live north of about 45 degrees latitude, there could be a beneficial effect. Take a look outside over the next few nights. "The northern lights will be real good", predicts Combs

You can read more about the solar storm at the NOAA Web site.