A solar flare detected on Tuesday, July 20, has cast a rogue cloud of charged particles towards our planet. Although not aimed directly at Earth, the “explosion’s debris” is forecast to trigger a minor solar storm in the magnetosphere surrounding Earth on Friday, July 23. Experts at the US Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) have warned the storm could lead to weak power grid disruptions.

The experts wrote in their three-day forecast: “A G1 (Minor) or greater geomagnetic storms is possible on July 23 in response to a glancing blow CME.”

CMEs or coronal mass ejections are large expulsions of plasma and magnetic fields from the Sun that are sometimes accompanied by solar flares.

CMEs and flares can, in turn, trigger solar storms by casting high-speed streams of charged material at the magnetosphere – the region of space around Earth that is dominated by the planet’s magnetic field.

According to the US space agency NASA, this can peel the magnetic field “open like an onion”, allowing the charged particles to hit the poles and atmosphere.

Solar storm forecast: NASA picture of the Sun
Solar storm forecast: A cloud of charged material from the Sun will strike Earth on Friday, July 23 (Image: NASA)
Solar storm effects on Earth - NASA graphic
Solar storm forecast: Solar storms can have an impact on tech and power grids (Image: NASA)

When this happens, Earth’s magnetic field is weakened for about six to 12 hours and will take a few days to fully recover.

Solar storms can cause a wide range of effects from minor disruptions to satellite operations, to full-blown blackouts.

The astronomy website SpaceWeather.com said: “A filament of magnetism near sunspot AR2846 erupted on July 20, sparking a B-class solar flare and hurling a cloud of plasma into space.

“Normally, the location of the blast site would rule out an impact on Earth.

“However, the explosion’s debris squirted out sideways.”

Modelling by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and SWPC suggest the debris will strike Earth’s magnetic field at some point between Friday and Saturday.

Luckily for us, the forecasters are only expecting a minor, G1 storm tomorrow.

Solar storms are ranked on a scale of G1 (Minor) to G5 (Extreme).

A G1 storm can cause “weak power grid fluctuations” and have a “minor impact on satellite operations”.

Weak solar storms are also known to have an impact on migratory animals and can trigger beautiful auroras.

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The stronger a storm is, the more likely it will have an impact on your day-to-day business.

G5 Extreme storms have the potential to cause power blackouts and power grids “may experience complete collapse”.

A powerful storm triggered by a CME on March 13, 1989, famously caused the Hydro-Québec power network in Canada to collapse.

The storm caused transformers to fail and left more than six million people without power for nine hours.

Solar storms also have the potential to have a devastating impact on air traffic by disrupting communications between aircraft and traffic control on the ground.

The stronger a storm is, the more likely it will have an impact on your day-to-day business.

G5 Extreme storms have the potential to cause power blackouts and power grids “may experience complete collapse”.

A powerful storm triggered by a CME on March 13, 1989, famously caused the Hydro-Québec power network in Canada to collapse.

The storm caused transformers to fail and left more than six million people without power for nine hours.

Solar storms also have the potential to have a devastating impact on air traffic by disrupting communications between aircraft and traffic control on the ground.

NASA said: “During certain space weather events, solar energetic particles spiral down geomagnetic field lines in the polar regions, where they increase the density of ionized gas, which in turn affects the propagation of radio waves and can result in radio blackouts.

“These events can last for several days, during which time aircraft must be diverted to latitudes where satellite communications can be used.”

Because these events are unpredictable and there is nothing we can do about them, some experts have warned “we’re sitting ducks” for a major storm to cripple our technology-reliant world.

According to a 2013 report the economic cost of a major solar storm hitting Earth would cause £0.43trillion to $1.87trillion ($0.6trillion to $2.6trillion) in damages in the US alone.

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