The most powerful solar storm in nearly six years has hit Earth, but space weather forecasters didn’t expect it to happen.
The company announced on Twitter that the storm made the aurora appear as far south as New Mexico in the United States, and forced spaceflight company Rocket Lab to delay the launch by 90 minutes.
The geomagnetic storm is rated as Category 4 on a 5-point scale used by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to rate the severity of space weather events.
Geomagnetic storms are disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic field caused by solar material from a coronal mass ejection (CME) – a large ejection of plasma and magnetic field from the sun’s atmosphere.
The latest storm, which occurred on Friday, was caused by a “stealth” missile attack that is difficult to detect.
NOAA’s National Space Weather Service originally said Wednesday that a moderate Category 2 storm would hit Earth on March 24. It was upgraded to a Category 4 storm at 00:41 AM EDT (04:41 AM GMT) on March 24.
American space weather forecaster Tamita Skov said Space.com Such storms move slowly and are hard to watch as they leave the sun’s surface without specialized training.
“That’s why it’s the cause of the ‘geomagnetic storm problem’ like the G4 level storm we’re in right now,” Skoff continued.
Geomagnetic storms are rated by NOAA on a scale of one to five. Class I storms can cause increased auroral activity around the poles and slight fluctuations in energy supplies. Category 5 storms can disrupt telegraph services around the world and unleash powerful and bright aurora borealis.
A Category 5 storm occurred in September 1859, and the aurora borealis were visible as far south as the Bahamas.
Strong geomagnetic storms can also affect spaceflight because they increase the density of gases in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, thus increasing pressure on satellites and other spacecraft.
In February 2022, Elon Musk’s SpaceX lost up to 40 new Starlink satellites when they failed to reach orbit after being launched in a minor geomagnetic storm.
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