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Solar storm arrives, nobody notices

‘Spin’ deceived forecasters

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If you notice the complete absence of global catastrophe, it’s because the solar storm that arrived after this week’s series of eruptions from the Sun only struck the Earth a glancing blow.

Now, as people are noticing that the power grid didn’t collapse, computers didn’t fail worldwide, and GPS still worked (as well as it ever did), US space weather experts from the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)have downgraded the threat and are looking for explanations for the surprisingly low impact of the storm.

The only impacts reported by the NOAA are some brief interference with HF radio systems that have already passed.

According to Reuters, the solar storm, originally predicted to be a G3 disturbance (in the middle of the NOAA’s range fro G1 to G5) turned out to be a G1. Flights that hop the pole are still being re-routed in case of communications interference, and there is the chance that it could intensify during Friday (9 March).

The key to the minor impact, according to NOAA scientist Joseph Kunches, was the orientation of the mass ejected from the Sun – and in particular, the orientation of the magnetic field within the mass.

When the cloud of charged particles arrived at Earth, Kunches said, its orientation minimized the impact – something that’s not easy for forecasters to predict.

He likened the orientation in the solar mass to the spin on a baseball: it’s easy to see the ball leave the pitcher’s hand, and to watch its direction, but much harder to see the ball spinning.

"It is very difficult for forecasters, literally almost impossible, as you watch the coronal mass ejection come off the Sun to be able to predict the orientation of that embedded magnetic field," Kunches said. ®

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