A huge explosion on the surface of the Sun is about to send a “cannibal CME” toward Earth.
After a series of explosions on the sun’s surface in the past few days, a “cannibal” eruption of solar material is set to hit Earth from Wednesday to Friday.
The material explosion, called a coronal mass ejection (CME), came from the sun early on August 15, less than a day after another one was seen on August 14.
CMEs are clouds of charged matter called plasma that come from the sun when a group of the sun’s tangled magnetic field lines suddenly shift or realign, releasing a lot of energy.
CMEs happen all the time, but if one is sent toward Earth, it can interact with the magnetic field of our planet and cause what is called a geomagnetic storm. Geomagnetic storms can cause problems with radio navigation, more drag on satellites, changes in the power grid, and auroras in places other than the poles.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) ranks storms from G1 to G5, with G5 being the strongest and most disruptive and G1 being the weakest and least disruptive.
On Monday, the SWPC sent out a warning about possible geomagnetic storms that could happen on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. On Thursday, in particular, a G2-class storm was expected. However, on Tuesday night, this was changed to a possible “strong” G3 event, and Friday was also added to the list of affected days.
The SWPC said that because of the “combined arrival” of multiple CMEs at the same time, a stronger storm was possible. Since August 14, at least four are thought to be on their way to Earth.
The August 15 CME has been called a “cannibal CME” by the news site spaceweather.com because it “might overtake and eat up” the one that came before it the day before.
Most people don’t need to worry about the G3 storm that could happen in the next few days. The SWPC said that these storms could cause more drag on satellites in low-Earth orbit, some problems with low-frequency radio navigation and satellite navigation, and auroras as far south as Illinois and Oregon. Storms could also mean that power systems need to make changes to the voltage.
For most people, a CME of this strength probably won’t be noticeable or get in the way of their daily lives.
For example, a power grid collapse or blackout would need a much stronger storm, like a G5-class event.
CMEs can be more of a problem in some fields. Early in 2022, a geomagnetic storm caused more resistance in low-Earth orbit, which made dozens of SpaceX satellites fall back to Earth and break up.