The X1.6-class solar flare that released two powerful coronal mass ejections (CME) on August 5, has just become even more terrifying. According to a new NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) model, the two CME clouds have merged, with the second, faster one, overtaking and cannibalizing the first. The result is that the merged entity has become even more powerful. Even a glancing blow from such a cloud can spark a vicious solar storm. The latest forecast says the storm will hit the Earth later today, August 8, and can produce G3-class storms.
Details around the incoming solar storm
According to a report by SpaceWeather.com, “A new NOAA model shows the two CMEs leaving the sun on Aug. 5th, then merging to form a single ‘cannibal CME’ that delivers a glancing blow to Earth on Aug. 8th. Cannibal CMEs are famous for causing strong geomagnetic storms, and even a glancing blow can be effective. In this case, storm levels could reach category G2 (Moderate) with a slight chance of escalating to G3 (Strong)”.
At the moment, it is not confirmed whether the hit will be a head-on collision or a glancing blow. But researchers are keeping a close eye on the cloud to understand the condition.
A full-force strike can damage small satellites, impact mobile networks, and GPS, and even pose a threat to ground-based electronics and power grids by increasing the magnetic potential by huge amounts.
What is a cannibal CME
Cannibal coronal mass ejections (CME) take place when speeding solar eruptions overtake earlier eruptions in the same region of space, combining with the charged particles to form a giant, combined wavefront that triggers a powerful geomagnetic storm. This always has a higher electromagnetic output and can cause significant damage to satellites and communication systems.
More danger lurks on the horizon
Even after the solar storm passes over, things are not going to be quiet for our planet. A departing sunspot called AR3386 has exploded creating a powerful X1-class solar flare yesterday, August 7. The extreme ultraviolet flash caused a shortwave radio blackout on the planet. It is unclear at the moment whether the CME released during the flare eruption will strike the Earth.
How NASA SOHO watches the Sun
NASA’s SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) is a space satellite that was launched on December 2, 1995, to observe the Sun. It is a joint project between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) to study the sun, its atmosphere, and its effects on the solar system. Equipped with 12 scientific instruments, such as an Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (EIT), Michelson Doppler Imager (MDI), LASCO (Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph), and others, SOHO captures images of the sun’s corona, measures the velocity and magnetic fields of the sun’s surface, and observes the faint corona around the Sun.