Massive solar flare heading towards Earth – don’t panic

12 Sep 2014

A solar eruption from April 2012. Image via NASA/SDO/AIA

Travelling at just over 4m km/h, an X-class solar flare eruption from the sun is now heading in Earth’s general direction and has been described as ‘extreme’.

Officially known as an X1.6 solar flare, the massive outburst of radiation from the sun peaked on 10 September just before 7pm Irish time and solar storms are expected to hit Earth’s atmosphere sometime today, according to CNet.

While it is considered one of the most severe solar flares in recent years, there doesn’t appear to be any need to rush to the nearest supermarket and prepare for a world-ending event.

While the storm is ranked quite highly in terms of its radiation output, human beings on the ground will not be affected, as Earth’s atmosphere continues to absorb any enormous solar radiation that blast in its direction.

However, effects will most likely be seen in radio and satellite communications, where the satellites are outside of the atmosphere’s protective shield, as well as radio waves and even navigational equipment.

Video of the X1.6 solar flare. Image via NASA

In some cases, power supplies could be affected, with one of the most famous examples of the last few decades being the solar storm of 1989 that short-circuited the power supply to the Canadian city of Québec and plunged it into darkness for a period of time.

This particular storm was so strong that the aurora seen in the skies near the North Pole were seen as far south as Texas.

Speaking to The Independent in the UK, Tom Berger of the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado, said that “we’ll at least catch some of the cloud”, but the most harmful rays will most likely just miss the Earth.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic