Update — May 10, 2024 at 7:31 PM EDT

NOAA Warning: Seven Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) are racing towards Earth

NOAA scientists have witnessed severe (G4) geomagnetic storm conditions today. Several additional Earth-directed Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) are in transit to Earth's outer atmosphere, making it highly likely that geomagnetic storming will persist through the weekend.

A large, complex sunspot cluster (NOAA Region 3664), which has now grown to 17 times the diameter of Earth, has been the primary source of this activity. Experts still expect additional activity from this Region.

Since the current solar cycle began in December 2019, observers have only witnessed three Severe geomagnetic storms.

G4 and G5 level storms in history

The most recent G4 (Severe) storm occurred on March 23, 2024, while the Halloween Storms in October 2003 marked the last G5 (Extreme) event.

The G5 storm notably caused power outages in Sweden and damaged transformers in South Africa, underscoring the potential consequences of such powerful geomagnetic disturbances.

This newest storm, caused by seven streams of plasma ejected from the sun earlier this week, could rival the intensity of the 1859 Carrington event, which disrupted global communications and set telegraph stations on fire.

Potential impacts on modern infrastructure

- In our technology-dependent society, a geomagnetic storm of this magnitude could cause widespread electrical disruptions, blackouts, and damage to critical infrastructure. Some of the potential impacts include:

- Voltage control problems and mistaken tripping of protective systems in the power grid

- Intensified induced pipeline currents

- Surface charging and increased drag on low Earth orbit satellites

- Tracking and orientation problems for spacecraft

- Degraded or inoperable satellite navigation (GPS) for hours

- Sporadic or blacked out high frequency (HF) radio propagation

Spectacular auroral displays expected

Despite the potential risks, the event could also trigger magnificent nighttime auroras, or Northern lights.

The auroral displays are expected to begin around 11:00 PM ET on Friday, May 10, 2024 and continue for several days.

Monitoring the storm's severity

Scientists will have a better understanding of the storm's severity around 8:00 PM ET when the plasma explosions are nearly one million miles from Earth. NOAA plans to issue alerts immediately to keep the public informed of the situation.

Possibility of a "Cannibal CME"

Scientists have also predicted that three of the six plasma streams, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), could combine to create a powerful "cannibal CME," further intensifying the storm's impact.

Understanding geomagnetic storms

Geomagnetic storms occur when high-energy particles released from solar flares ejected by the sun reach Earth. Although the sun continuously erupts and hurls particles into space, Earth's distance of 93 million miles from the sun usually prevents these particles from reaching our planet.

Auroras may be seen as low as Florida and Texas in the southern states, down to Missouri in the Midwest, and down to Southern California on the west coast.

Preparing for the worst

Clinton Wallace, director of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), emphasized the agency's readiness, stating, "We anticipate we will get one shock after another. We are really buckling down here."

While officials predict an event slightly less severe than the Carrington event (a G5 geomagnetic storm), they are not discounting the possibility of reaching the lower end of the same measurement scale, which ranges from G1 to G5.

As Earth prepares for this potentially historic geomagnetic storm, it is crucial to stay informed and heed any warnings or alerts issued by NOAA and other official sources.

By understanding the risks and taking appropriate precautions, we can minimize the storm's impact on our modern way of life while marveling at the awe-inspiring auroral displays it may bring.