An eruption on the surface of the sun has unleashed the largest solar storm in the past five years, which is currently barreling towards Earth and threatens to disrupt power grids, GPS signals and airplane flight communication systems.
A massive solar flare erupted Tuesday evening, and is expected to reach Earth sometime between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. EST Thursday, according to forecasts from the Space Weather Prediction Center, AP reported.
Due to the lack of strong solar activity in recent years, scientists say this storm may seem stronger than it actually is.
This is a good-size event, but not the extreme type, said Bill Murtagh, program coordinator for the SWP center.
Joe Kunches, a scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said solar storms can disrupt electronic systems through magnetic, radio and radiation emissions.
Solar storms carry charged particles from the sun that bombard and penetrate the Earth's atmosphere, interfering with its magnetic field, which can take power grids offline and disrupt communication systems used by airplanes and GPS satellites. The severity of the storm will depend on its timing and speed when it arrives, which remain uncertain, Kunches said.
The solar storm could last until Friday morning, though it is possible that more solar flares could erupt in the meantime, he added.
While the storm could cause some technological problems, it will also give people in higher latitudes an opportunity to view the Northern and Southern Lights due to the increased radiation at the poles. In North America, the Aurora Borealis could be visible as far south as the Great Lake states, peaking Thursday evening.
The auroras are probably the treat we get when the sun erupts, Kunches said, AP reported.