In 2020, the Earth narrowly avoided a catastrophe

In August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted that a powerful solar flare erupted from the sun would hit Earth’s magnetic field.

Panic ensued as news reports warned of this potentially catastrophic event, adding to the misery of the year 2020.

Inverse counts down the 20 most universe-changing moments of 2020. This is number 19. Check out the full list here.

On August 16, NOAA saw a solar flare erupt from the surface of the sun. The slow-motion flare created a shock wave through the star’s atmosphere and sent a small ripple to Earth’s magnetic field.

This coronal mass ejection from the Sun was not the result of hitting our planet, but NOAA predicted it could scrape our planet’s magnetic field. As a result, there was a real possibility that small geomagnetic storms and high latitude auroras would occur that would throw our electronic systems into chaos.

Coronal mass ejections are highly energetic outbursts from the Sun and the main source of major space weather events.

A 2015 coronal mass ejection.Solar Dynamics Observatory, NASA

Essentially, they are giant gas bubbles and magnetic flux released by the sun that carry up to a billion tons of charged particles and move at speeds of several million miles per hour. These clouds, and the shock waves they create, occasionally reach Earth and cause geomagnetic storms.

Geomagnetic storms are major disturbances of the Earth’s magnetosphere – the space around our planet that is controlled by our magnetic field. The storms sometimes result in beautiful aurorae, but can also disrupt global navigation systems and electricity grids.

This particular coronal mass ejection was due to a B1-class solar flare, which is rather weak compared to some explosive flares.

NOAA had predicted that the resulting geomagnetic storm would be a category G1, or minor storm. Small geomagnetic storms can have some effect on power grids and satellite operations – or they have no effect at all.

Our sun is an active star, periodically subject to events such as coronal mass ejections, fast solar wind and solar flares. These events are huge, but given our distance from the host star, they don’t always affect us on Earth.

Something to keep in mind the next time an incoming solar flare is reported. Do not panic.

Inverse counts down the 20 most universe-changing moments of 2020. This is number 20. Read the original story here.

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