Science

Don't Fret Over Sunday's Magnetic Storm

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No, a massive geomagnetic storm will not hit Earth on March 18.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) refuted reports that a substantial storm will disrupt telecommunication systems over the weekend.

“This story is not plausible in any way, shape, or form,” Bob Rutledge, head of NOAA’s Space Weather Forecast Center, toldNewsweek. “Things are all quiet for space weather, and the sun is essentially spotless.”

Monday’s misguided news coverage—highlighting potential effects like headaches, dizziness, and sleep disturbances—appears to be the result of a simple misunderstanding.

A chart posted on Russia’s Lebedev Institute website shows a slight uptick in geomagnetic activity on the 18th (and again on the 22nd and 26th). The red bars, which barely reach the G1 “minor storm” level, was misinterpreted as a major event.

NOAA’s 27-day forecast suggests similar fluctuations, expected to be “a minor storm at most,” according to Newsweek.

Geomagnetic storms can create beautiful aurora (via Noel_Bauza/Pixabay)

A temporary disturbance of the Earth’s magnetosphere, a geomagnetic storm is the result of a solar wind shock wave and/or a cloud of magnetic field, causing an increase in plasma movement and electric current through the magnetosphere.

Disturbances are rated from least (G1) to most (G5) extreme. G1 storms, like the one due on Sunday, occur about 2,000 times every 11 years—or once every two days. So there’s really nothing to worry about.

The largest recorded geomagnetic storm, referred to as the Carrington Event, struck in September 1859.

Effects were so strong that, in some cases, telegraph wires delivered shocks to operators and ignited fires, and aurorae—phenomena usually only visible in polar regions—were seen as far south as Hawaii, Mexico, Cuba, and Italy.

Most recently, a series of storms in the autumn of 2003 forced the Federal Aviation Administration offline for 30 hours, severely damaged the Japanese ADEOS-2 satellite, and resulted in an extreme radio blackout.

Still convinced the world will be cast into darkness on March 18? The federal government’s Ready.gov website offers tips on preparing for a major space weather event.

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