On February 17, an extreme solar flare eruption occurred on the Sun. The X2.2-class solar flare exploded on the sunspot AR3229 and became the strongest flare seen in the last two years. While the event caused radio blackout on the American continents, the event was concerning because there was a risk that it could channel further solar storm events on Earth by releasing coronal mass ejection (CME) clouds. The CME cloud finally hit the Earth yesterday, February 20, in alignment with the prediction by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. However, unexpectedly, it did not cause the kind of solar storm astronomers were worried about. Check details.
The incident was reported by SpaceWeather.com which noted in its website, “A CME struck Earth’s magnetic field on Feb. 20th at 10:39 UTC. The impact was weak and did not cause a strong solar storm. If this was the CME from Friday’s X2.2 flare (the jury’s still out) then NOAA’s forecast of a weak glancing blow was correct”.
CME cloud hits the Earth causing weak solar storm
The intensity of a solar storm depends on two factors. First is the amount of solar matter (CME) that interacts with the magnetic field of the Earth and second is the angle at which it strikes us. It was expected that a powerful solar flare eruption like the February 17 one would release a huge amount of CME cloud that was capable of causing a powerful solar storm event on Earth.
However, we got lucky as the eruption on the Sun was not at the dead center of the Earth-facing disk. As a result, by the time the CME cloud reached our planet, it could only strike glancing blows and a large part of the cloud never made contact with the Earth. This resulted in a heavily weakened solar storm.
If the Earth had to suffer the full brunt of the cloud, it could have resulted in a dangerous solar storm. It could potentially damage satellites, break down mobile networks and internet services, cause power grid failures and corrupt sensitive ground-based electronics such as pacemakers and ventilators.
For now, the Earth lucked out, so to speak. But the Sun is far from done with its chaotic solar activities and another big solar storm could just be around the corner.