Radio jammed by massive solar flare

The cloud of supercharged particles emitted by a series of three solar flares is, as feared, disturbing radio communications.

The China Meteorological Administration (CMA) reports that shortwave communications have been disrupted by the flares, of which the third, on Tuesday, was the biggest in over four years. With flares categorised as C Class, M Class and X Class, it’s well into the X Class range.

And while there’s some debate about how much disruption the flare will cause, a similar coronal mass ejection (CME) cut the power to millions of people in Canada in 1973.

And the current storm is set to continue, according to space weather forecasters.

“An increase to unsettled to active conditions, with a chance for minor storm periods is expected late on day one into day two (18 February),” reads a forecast from the US’ NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center.

“The increased activity is forecast due to the expected arrival of the CME associated with the X2 flare that occurred on 15/02/11. Day three (19 February) is expected to be quiet to active as the disturbance subsides.”

Personally, we prefer the Radio 4 Shipping Forecast.

And more flares are likely to be on the way. Region 1158 – where this week’s biggest originated – is expected to produce more M-class flares over the next few days, and could produce an M5 or greater x-ray event. There’s also a chance of isolated M-class activity from Region 1161.

There’s a danger to astronauts on the International Space Station, says NASA, and even to air passengers and crew.

But, hey, those of us in reasonably northerly or southerly latitudes could at least be in for a pretty light show – especially if the lights do indeed go out.

“Further Northern Lights (aurora) displays are possible some time over the next two nights if skies are clear and the activity peaks in your local night-time,” says the British Geological Survey.