Earth ‘on high alert’ as two big flares set to be ejected from Sun

A solar storm warning has been issued after sunspots have raised the alarm of forecasters.

Holes in the sun's upper atmosphere, where the plasma is less dense and cooler than other parts, are known as coronal holes.

While most of the sun's magnetic field is closed, the coronal holes have an open magnetic field that extends into interplanetary space allowing solar winds to escape.

Taking to Twitter, Dr Tamitha Skov, a space weather physicist wrote: "No big Earth-directed storms yet, but we're on high alert. Several sunspot clusters are in Earth-view right now. At least two are big-flare players, but none have launched anything significant."

In a second tweet she said: "It looks like the pocket of fast #solar wind from the small coronal hole is over-performing! We should enjoy a bit of #aurora over the next few hours at least. What a great holiday gift for those in the UK, Iceland, & possibly East Coast of Canada, if these conditions last!"

How dangerous is a solar storm?

Like storms that take place inside the earth's atmosphere, solar storms are measured on a scale, with each end representing their danger to earth from mild to major.

The scale ranges from G1 minor to G5 extreme, as defined by the US Space Weather Center or SWPC.

G5 is the most dangerous and while minor G1 storms are only likely to cause minor fluctuations to power grid systems and "minor impact on satellite operations."

They can also cause high-altitude auroras and confuse migratory birds – but it is only when the storms get stronger the potential impacts become more severe.

The SWPC say some solar storms can reach speeds of 250km-3,000km a second.

The stronger storms can have particularly high impacts on orbital and terrestrial technology.

The SWPC say in G3 storms, "drag may increase on low-Earth-orbit" spacecraft and can lead to surface charging on satellites.

Bigger storms can cause damage to transformers leading entire power grids to collapse while low signal radio frequencies can be blocked for hours.

The SWPC say: "During storms, the currents in the ionosphere, as well as the energetic particles that precipitate into the ionosphere add energy in the form of heat that can increase the density and distribution of density in the upper atmosphere, causing extra drag on satellites in low-earth orbit.

"The local heating also creates strong horizontal variations in the ionospheric density that can modify the path of radio signals and create errors in the positioning information provided by GPS.

"While the storms create beautiful aurora, they also can disrupt navigation systems such as the Global Navigation Satellite System and create harmful geomagnetic induced currents in the power grid and pipelines."

It is believed a G5 strength event was recorded in 1859, with telephone lines set on fire and the northern lights seen in the Caribbean.

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