Big Solar Flare Hits Noirthern US Canada

Jan 24 2012


CME IMPACT: As predicted by analysts at the Goddard Space Weather Lab, a CME hit Earth’s magnetic field on Jan. 24 (today)  at ~1500 UT (10 am EST).  A geomagnetic storm is brewing in the aftermath of the impact, but as this alert is being written it is too soon to say how weak or strong the storm might be.  High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras after local nightfall; the hours around local midnight are often best for seeing the Northern Lights.  Chances for a good display favor observers in northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, Canada, Alaska, and possibly northern tier US states such as Maine, Wisconsin and Minnesota.  Check for updates.

As NASA reported late yesterday, this is  an M8.7 class flare, an earth-directed coronal mass ejection (CME), and a burst of fast moving, highly energetic protons known as a “solar energetic particle” event. The latter has caused the strongest solar radiation storm since September 2005 according to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

“NASA’s Goddard Space Weather Center’s models predict that the CME is moving at almost 1,400 miles per second, and could reach Earth’s magnetosphere – the magnetic envelope that surrounds Earth — as early as tomorrow, Jan 24 at 9 AM ET (plus or minus 7 hours).

“This has the potential to provide good auroral displays, possibly at lower latitudes than normal.”

What does this mean and what is NASA NOT saying?

From Wikipedia:- Solar flares are classified as A, B, C, M or X according to the peak flux (in watts per square meter, W/m2) of 100 to 800 picometer X-rays near Earth, as measured on the GOES spacecraft.

Each class has a peak flux ten times greater than the preceding one. Within a class there is a linear scale from 1 to 9 (multiplicative factor), so an X2 flare (2 x 10−4 W/m2) is twice as powerful as an X1 flare (10−4 W/m2), and is four times more powerful than an M5 flare (5 x 10−5 W/m2). The more powerful M and X class flares are often associated with a variety of effects on the near-Earth space environment.

Massive solar flares have been known to knock out electric power for extended periods of time.”

This is what we want you to be aware of – these things are dangerous in several ways, and the one that is due today, which is an M8.7, while it may not knock out the electric grid, certainly has the potential to disrupt communications and GPS systems. We’re told that some planes are changing their northern routes because of potential navigation problems.

We are taking the pecaution of shutting down and disconnecting our computers for a period of time.

Not all CMEs are Earth-directed, but we can expect more of them to come our way in the near future – and there is no way of telling at this point just how powerful they might be. Therefore it is vital that we understand what they are, and what they can dio – and what we should do for ourselves.

For background….Wikipedia again:- “In modern times, the largest solar flare measured with instruments occurred on November 4, 2003. This event saturated the GOES (satellite) detectors, and because of this its classification is only approximate. Initially, extrapolating the GOES curve, it was pegged at X28. Later analysis of the ionospheric effects suggested increasing this estimate to X45.

“Other large solar flares also occurred on April 2, 2001 (X20), October 28, 2003 (X17.2 & X10), September 7, 2005 (X17), February 17, 2011 (X2).and August 10, 2011 (X6.9).

In 1989, during solar cycle 22 two large flares occurred on March 6 (X15) (see: March 1989 geomagnetic storm) and August 16 (X20) causing disruptions in electric grids and computer systems.

A complete list is available at


Michael Knight

The Portland Preparedness Center.


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