On Feb. 15, the sun unleashed its biggest solar flare in four years. The X2-class flare, which expanded to the size of Jupiter, almost immediately put earth awash in a sea of radiation. But the eruption also released several plumes of charged particles, or coronal mass ejections, which are hitting the earth in waves that culminate today. (You would know this already if you had NASA's 3D Sun app.)
According to NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center:
The first interplanetary shock, driven by the CME from Sunday, is expected any time. Soon thereafter, the shock from Monday evening's R3/CME is due. Soon thereafter, the shock from Monday evening's R3/CME is due. Look for G1-G2 (and maybe periods of G3 if the following shock compresses and enhances the CME magnetic field). Geomagnetic storming should persist 24 - 48 hours.
Ehm... what exactly does that mean? Well, the government measures the intensity of geomagnetic storms on a scale of G1 to G5 (the strongest). This storm's periods of G2 activity could cause "voltage alarms" and transformer damage to power systems in the high latitudes, as well as aurora borealis that has been seen as far south as New York.
If the storm cranks up to G3 activity, it could trigger false alarms on protection devices in power systems and interfere with satellite navigation and radio communications. It's not expected to happen, but G5 activity can knock satellites from orbit and cause northern lights to spread as far south as Texas.
More flares are expected as the sun ratchets up into its 11-year cycle of storminess. The magnetic storms are already causing problems with communications tech. The AFP reports that short-wave radio transmissions have been jammed in China due to "sudden ionospheric disturbances."
Follow the jump for a couple photos of this tremendous flare-up.