Look out! NASA is warning that two giant solar flares are headed for Earth. The first is expected to strike us at about 1:25am EST Thursday. The Coronal Mass Ejection, CME, could disrupt everything from cell phones, electrical power, cable and satellite television and GPS systems for upwards of seven hours or more. A second solar flare erupted shortly after the first geomagnetic storm event just one hour later, though appears to be somewhat weaker. According to solar storm expert, Alex Young, a physicist with NASA, who spoke with the LA Times, ″It could give us a bit of a jolt.″ The eruptions began late Tuesday evening, blasting a massive ′blob′ of highly charged particles off into space from stormy sunspots, traveling at speeds of around 4 million miles per hour. Such massive waves of charged particles will impact the space weather of the Earth, as well as enhance the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights.

solar flare

The solar flares were first detected by NASA satellites such as the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, also known as STEREO and the Solar Heliospheric Observatory, SOHO. Data from their observations was analyzed by the Space Weather team at NASA′s Goddard Flight Center, which manages the satellites. The first eruption occurred at 7pm EST and was determined to have a strength of X5.4 magnitude. The second blast came at 8:14pm EST but is only rated as an X1 magnitude event, meaning that the first was 5.4 times stronger. The largest solar flare so far in the current 11-year solar maximum period, which began in 2008, was back on August 9, 2011, rated as an X6.9 event. The strongest in recent times recorded was on December 5, 2006 at X9.0, followed the next day by another rated at X6.5.

So other than some static on your cell phone, radio or screwy picture on your TV set, these solar flares will help brighten the night sky in the Northern latitudes, enhancing the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. Amateur photographers and video-graphers should have fun recording these images of space weather. However, there is always the possibility that there could be a disruption in the electric power grid. These are usually very localized power outages, but there have been cases in the past where wide areas experienced blackouts and brownouts due to solar flares. If you feel you must protect any vital electronic equipment, such as your computer, you may want to purchase or build a Faraday Cage. Essentially just a metal box to box your sensitive, digital gear.