Flares and CME are related but different events. Both occur near sunspot groups and are related to the sudden change in the Sun's magnetic field. A solar flare releases large amounts of radiation, in addition to some high-energy particles, but the energy released is lost in every direction rather than aiming at a particular location. A coronal mass ejection, as the name suggests, involves the actual stellar material taken in space. This disorder can drive a shock wave in front of it, increasing the overall effect on any planet it hits. As NASA describes:
The outbreak is like a circle flash, which is visible anywhere around. CME is like cannonball, pushed forward in a single, unique direction, the mass released from the barrel that affects only one target area. This is CME-an immense cloud of magnetized particles thrown into space. Traveling one million miles per hour, hot material called plasma takes up to three days to reach Earth. The differences between the two types of explosions are seen through the solar telescope, with flares appearing as a bright light and CME appearing as a massive gas fan leading to space.
We talked about CME then, and the potential damage they could pose in modern life on Earth. The good news is that the incoming CME headed for Earth is now a G2 storm. Nearly 600 of these occur every 11 years, although most of them do not go to Earth. A real powerful storm, like the 1859 Carrington Event, will be held as a G5.
The good news is that if you're between green and yellow lines, you have a solid shot of event seeing and its effect on Aurora Borealis, or northern lights. NASA expects to see Aurora between the two lines early in AM. If you have a chance, try to go out and see the light show if you have not seen it yet.
With the intensities, a CME is an interesting opportunity to see the way charged particles interact with the magnetic field. With higher intensity and with rarer events, the results may be more serious. We talked about those issues and the huge damage of a Carrington Event can be done in the modern-day electrical grid in multiple stories over the years. My former colleague from years ago also recently wrote a guide to the potential threats of EMP eruptions from both solar and nuclear sources that address this issue as well.
When you start learning about them, CMEs are a cumbersome natural disaster class to completely dismiss. On the one hand, the possibilities of being struck by a G5 solar flare are low. On the other hand, we know a fact that Earth occasionally gets nailed through a nuclear fastball flung through a nearby stellar object that we literally worshiped as a god for thousands of years. It is closer to a reasonable get smited smitten smote struck by the hands of an angry god.
The impact on The electrical grid of the world, especially the North American grid, may be large depending on where and when flares flare up. Most of our own power generation capacities can be offline for many months depending on how much the disaster is involved. The modern grid is not much designed to cope with the impact of a G5, the damage to power plants from smaller storms has become significant, and generally do not accept utility companies that they do not miss a potential that is a huge source of damage that we knew occurring every few hundred years based on the previous record of events on CME on Earth.
Immediate threat? No Interesting rabbit hole? Definitely. One thing we really should be prepping for more serious than we have?
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