Friday, December 1, 2023

Today's forecast: Sunny skies with a chance of solar flares

Unusual phenomenon likely to only cause minor problems

September 2, 2022

Should you be worried about AR3089, the massive solar flare possibly colliding with the Earth this evening? Megan Donahue, MSU Distinguished Professor of Astronomy & Astrophysics and President of the American Astronomical Society, says there’s little cause for concern.

“It’s a fairly low probability event that any of us will experience any downsides," Donahue said.

The unusual phenomenon has a chance to reach the highest classification of solar flares, class-X, a classification that has previously resulted in electrical and communications blackouts. However, Donahue doesn’t see a need for worry, even if we face that worst-case scenario. She said the chance of power outages is small.

“These flares don’t usually take out the grid,” Donahue said. “But they can.”

“It’s usually temporary, like an outage, if you were experiencing it as a regular citizen, you might experience a short outage … usually the power grid has a redundancy, so that any one central part can be offline, but other parts of the network pick up the slack.”

On the lighter side of things, Donahue said large flare events like this could lead to visible northern lights, even in East Lansing.

“That’s when you get particles spiraling along magnetic fields and interacting with gasses in the atmosphere, lighting up the sky,” Donahue said. “It’s much more common at high latitudes, very high in the North or very far in the South, because that’s where the magnetic fields get close together. But if it’s a big event, people could see northern lights as far south as here.”

Donahue suggests that those in East Lansing hoping to see the northern lights check the Space Weather Prediction Center’s official 30-minute Aurora Borealis Forecast.

“It’s a good source of information, especially if you don’t want to waste a drive,” she says.

She also suggests individuals go anywhere far from large city lights, like the agricultural grounds north and south of campus.

"Space is a dangerous place, and earth is a nice safe harbor from it, so take care of it," Donahue said. "That would be my message.”

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