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NOAA Issues a Geomagnetic Storm Watch and Solar Winds Portend It Won't Be the Last
Geomagnetic storms are on the rise and they are (mostly) nothing to worry about.
Christopher Nolan’s 2023 biopic Oppenheimer features an explosive cast including Cillian Murphy as the titular scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, alongside Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downy Jr., Florence Pugh, and more. The film took home five Golden Globes, has 13 nominations in the upcoming 96th Academy Awards, and is streaming right now on Peacock.
Oppenheimer tells the story of the Manhattan Project and the creation of the atomic bomb. A key moment in the story, both onscreen and in history, was the success of the Trinity Test, during which scientists detonated the world’s first atomic bomb, with an estimated yield of 25 kilotons. Later bombs ramped up the power, maxing out with Tsar Bomba, the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated. Tsar Bomba had a capacity of 100 megatons, roughly 4,000 times the strength of the Trinity test. That level of violence was deemed too dangerous, even for a test, so the bomb’s yield was cut in half.
The existence of weapons that powerful should make anyone uncomfortable, but even that vast show of destructive power pales in comparison to the energy contained in a coronal mass ejection (CME), which can carry the power of nearly 200 Tsar Bombas, according to NASA. And one such solar explosion is headed our way.
The Earth Is in the Path of Solar Storms More Powerful Than an Atomic Bomb
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has issued a G1 geomagnetic storm watch for January 24 - 26, via its Space Weather Prediction Center. The watch was initiated after multiple solar flares and filament eruptions let loose from the surface of the Sun a few days prior. Associated CMEs are predicted to be flying toward our planet right now.
Assuming those CMEs cross the distance as expected, they’re likely to trigger a G1 storm as early as the evening of January 24, though impact is more likely over the following two days. The storm is expected to be pretty mild but could ramp up a bit if the charged solar plasma hits the planet more directly, according to NOAA. All of that might sound frightening but the Earth’s magnetic field protects us and there’s very little to worry about.
A G1 storm is at the lowest end of the geomagnetic storm scale and is considered minor. Potential impacts include power grid fluctuations, minor impacts to orbiting spacecraft, changes in the behavior of migratory animals, and enhanced aurorae. The only thing you’re likely to notice is a slightly bright light show at high latitudes, if you notice it at all.
This comes on the heels of a stronger G2 solar storm just a few days earlier. Astronomers observed a CME ripping from the Sun’s surface on January 20, which flew across interplanetary space on a collision course with Earth. These are some of the first solar storms of the year, but they won’t be the last. We’re currently approaching the peak of solar cycle 25 (the 25th 11-year solar cycle since astronomers started tracking them) and we’re going to see increased sunspot, solar flare, solar wind, and CME activity along the way.
Odds are that those storms will come and go with little impact to those of us on the ground, though a particularly strong one could dismantle our electrical grids and communications infrastructure. That’s pretty impressive for an explosion that’s happening 93 million miles from here. And even that is preferable to the detonation of nuclear bombs.
Get ready for The Oscars with Oppenheimer, streaming now on Peacock.