It has been just revealed the fact that over the past weekend, two massive coronal mass ejections (CMEs) from the Sun have combined to form a magnetic plasma cloud. This high-energy cloud is set to reach Earth on Tuesday (18/7/2023), causing a geomagnetic storm that may impact human technology. The first CME was triggered by a solar flare on Friday (14/7/2023) at 18:44 UTC or Saturday (15/7/2023) at 01:44 WIB. The flare, which originated from a sunspot with the code AR3370, was classified as C8.
On July 15th, 2023 at 07:41 UTC or 14:41 WIB, a second CME was detected following a flare that occurred just 13 hours earlier. This second flare originated from a larger sunspot, identified as AR3363, and was classified as M2 due to its higher intensity compared to the first flare which originated from AR3370.
Intensity of solar flares
The intensity of solar flares is measured on a scale of five classes, from A (weakest) to X (strongest). According to the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) website, a class C flare is a mid-range flare with a strength 100 times greater than a class A flare, but only one-hundredth the strength of a class X flare.
On Monday (17/7/2023), a phenomenon known as “cannibalism” occurred during the Solar Cycle peak. The mass ejection of the second corona’s sound merged with the first sound to form a large magnetic plasma cloud. Since the second sound’s CME was stronger, it quickly absorbed the first sound’s CME. This event was reported by LiveScience and indicates the Solar Cycle peak is approaching.
According to SWPC NOAA’s estimate on Sunday, July 16, 2023, a combination of two CMEs would result in a geomagnetic storm on Earth on Tuesday, July 18, 2023. However, the predicted strength of the storm is only expected to reach G1 (minor) to G2 (moderate). It should be noted that G1 is the weakest level of a geomagnetic storm, while G5 (extreme) is the strongest level.
Despite being minor to moderate, this level of geomagnetic storm can still cause disruptions in electricity networks and fluctuations in high-latitude areas. It may also interfere with satellite operations in space, although the chances of this happening are low. Additionally, G1 geomagnetic storms can disrupt bird migration and create auroras around the Earth’s poles.
Solar flares and activity
The sun’s activity is currently on the rise, as it approaches the peak of its 11-year cycle, also known as the solar cycle. We are currently in the 25th cycle, which began in December 2019 and is expected to reach its peak in July 2025. During this time, we will see an increase in sunspots on the surface of the sun. These spots will appear as black clusters through a telescope with a special filter or when wearing protective sun glasses.
A solar flare forms outside of the Sun, but it cannot travel into the Sun’s interior due to the denser material there. This flare then causes a coronal mass ejection (CME), which is a mass of plasma consisting of charged particles and a large magnetic field that moves at high speeds throughout the solar system. This ejection can travel up to hundreds of millions of kilometers away from the Sun.
The Sun continuously emits charged particles into its surrounding environment, but during a CME, the number of released charged particles increases significantly. This sudden surge of charged particles is known as a solar storm.