‘Cannibal’ solar flare expected to hit Earth this week

The sun could send a storm to Earth in the coming days. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, our fiery star is spitting out a series of explosions on Sunday headed in the direction of our planet and could trigger a powerful geomagnetic storm.

One of these explosions, called a coronal mass ejection, or CME, is expected to collide with and consume another, creating what is called a cannibal CME event. According to The Weather Channel, these events can trigger powerful geomagnetic storms — and in this case, it’s headed our way.

This 2004 image from NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory shows a solar flare, right, erupting from the giant sunspot 649, launching a coronal mass ejection (CME) into space.  / Credit: NASA SOHO/AFP via Getty Images

This 2004 image from NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory shows a solar flare, right, erupting from the giant sunspot 649, launching a coronal mass ejection (CME) into space. / Credit: NASA SOHO/AFP via Getty Images

NOAA expects the jets to hit Thursday, but before they do, the agency said Earth will also be blasted Wednesday by relatively fast solar winds, known as the high-velocity recurrent coronal hole stream. The solar winds alone could trigger a small geomagnetic storm on Wednesday, but those conditions are expected to escalate to strong conditions, known as G3, once the solar flares occur.

NOAA said at least four of the CMEs have the potential to directly impact Earth.

Geomagnetic storms are ranked on a scale from G1 to G5, with G5 being the most extreme. In such a case, there would be widespread voltage control problems, and some power grids could experience “complete collapse or blackout,” according to NOAA.

A G3 storm like the one expected could require some power voltage systems to be rectified and could also trigger some false alarms in power protection devices.

Such a storm could also create a beautiful side effect – visible northern lights outside their usual realm.

NOAA previously said the northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, could be seen as far south as Illinois and Oregon if G3 hits.

When a CME hit Earth on Wednesday, it triggered a G2 geomagnetic storm and an aurora sighting in Herzogswalde, Germany, according to spaceweather.com, which tracks the latest data coming from NOAA. Herzogswalde is located at latitude 51ºN, roughly in line with central Quebec and Ontario in Canada. And as spaceweather.com noted, the lights were visible in that city through “clouds, fog and city lights.”

On Thursday morning, NOAA said the impact area is mostly areas 50ºN and later, adding that the aurora may be visible at high latitudes such as Canada and Alaska.

Also Wednesday, NASA astronaut Bob Hines, who is piloting the SpaceX Crew-4 mission that launched in April, shared his own photos of the northern lights as seen from space. He pointed to recent solar activity for creating the magnificence.

Where the lights will be visible and how bright they will be is best estimated by NOAA about 30 to 90 minutes in advance. Radar shows that Thursday morning around 2:45 am. ET, the potential for auroras from North Dakota, Minnesota and most of Canada increased dramatically.

A short-term forecast for the lights can be found here.

The northern lights could be seen on the northern horizon in the night sky above Wolf Lake in the Cloquet State Forest in Minnesota in the early morning hours of September 28, 2019. / Credit: Alex Kormann/Star Tribune via Getty Images

The northern lights could be seen on the northern horizon in the night sky above Wolf Lake in the Cloquet State Forest in Minnesota in the early morning hours of September 28, 2019. / Credit: Alex Kormann/Star Tribune via Getty Images

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