There’s a solar Coronal Mass Ejection travelling towards us at 1,400 miles per second, the largest solar storm since 2005. It will hit Earth around 9am Eastern Time, causing fluctuations on the power grid and disruptions to the Global Positioning System.
Don’t worry, you won’t die.
But there’s something else, a strong proton storm—ranking S3 on a 5-level scale—which is in full rage now and gradually increasing. While CMEs are normal—about 2,000 every 11-year solar cycle—proton storms are very rare. Only a couple of dozen happen per solar cycle. And this one can be dangerous.
The storm has already affected aircraft traffic and may affect satellites’ computers. On a telephone interview, NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center physicist Doug Biesecker told me that, fortunately, there are measures to avoid most dangers.
“Many airliners have been avoiding the North Pole routes because they are more exposed to the proton storm, which disrupts High Frequency radio communications,” he said on a telephone interview. HF datalinks are crucial to modern airflight, as they keep aircraft connected to Air Traffic Control. Due to the structure of the magnetic field that surrounds Earth, the polar cusps have very little protection against outbursts of solar radiation, so any airplane crossing that area could be exposed to this mayhem.