A powerful solar flare hampers the emergency response to Hurricane Ian


The sun released an X-class flare on Oct. 2, 2022. (Image credit: NASA/SDO/Helioviewer.org)
The sun released an X-class flare on Oct. 2, 2022. (Image credit: NASA/SDO/Helioviewer.org)

Emergency personnel in Florida and the Carolinas dealing with the sad aftermath of Hurricane Ian may have experienced more setbacks on Sunday (Oct. 2) when a huge solar flare hampered radio connections. The solar flare, an X1 (the mildest form of the strongest category of flares), burst from the sun around 3:53 p.m. EDT (1953 GMT) on Sunday and peaked approximately 30 minutes later. Because solar flares move at the speed of light, the burst of electromagnetic radiation triggered an immediate radio blackout lasting up to an hour on the planet's sun-facing side. The impacted area covered the whole United States.


The radio blackout, classified as a strong R3 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), most likely disrupted rescue personnel using 25 MHz radios to communicate in places where Hurricane Ian's wrath wiped down mobile phone networks. According to space weather researcher Tamitha Skov on Twitter, the disturbance in the top layers of Earth's atmosphere created by the flare may have rendered GPS location unavailable or less reliable.

A few hours later, a lesser flare caused another radio blackout over the western Pacific and Australia.

Both flares were followed by a coronal mass ejection (CME), which is a burst of magnetized particles from the sun's upper atmosphere, the corona, and started from a sunspot (a darkened area of high magnetic activity on the sun's surface) dubbed AR3110. Following a handful of previous CMEs that blasted off the sun on Saturday, the two plasma clouds may now be traveling to Earth (Oct. 1).


Concurrently, a stronger-than-usual solar wind, a continuous stream of charged particles coming from the sun, is now blowing toward our planet from a coronal hole (an opening in the magnetic field of the sun). Because of this, the CMEs may cause a significant geomagnetic storm on Earth in the following days. A moderate (G2) geomagnetic storm is expected to slam the earth on Tuesday (Oct. 4), creating modest power grid disruptions at high latitudes and disrupting satellites in low Earth orbit.


More flares and CMEs are expected in the following days, according to space weather analysts. According to the Met Office, a new, enormous, and "complex" sunspot, AR3112, has appeared in the northeast and will span the sun's visible disk during the following two weeks. AR3112 is "one of the biggest sunspots in years," spanning 80,000 miles (130,000 kilometers). According to the Met Office, AR3112 has the potential to grow more active, which means more flares and CMEs.


According to the Met Office, solar activity will be moderate to high, with flares probable from the vast region in the northeast and the region in the northwest.


The geomagnetic storms provide a decent chance of seeing polar lights outside of their customary bounds near the poles for aurora chasers. The displays may be visible as far south as the north of Scotland in the United Kingdom and as far north as the northern United States.

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