The strongest solar storms in a decade have erupted on the surface of the sun, confounding scientists and causing severe disruptions to electromagnetic signals on earth. The solar flares began unexpectedly on September 4th and continued for days. Because it takes days for the energy from those eruptions to reach earth, their effects took a while to be felt.
One of the most visible effects was the phenomenon of the Northern Lights, or aurora borealis, being able to be seen as far south as Arkansas and the northern parts of the Appalachian Mountains. The storms also caused radio blackouts in areas of the Caribbean that were facing Hurricane Irma, leading to an inability on the part of radio operators to keep those people informed about the storm and its path.
Because of the storms’ strength, airline flights crossing polar regions will have to be rerouted due to heightened radiation exposure and possible interference with communications and navigation equipment. Further storms may continue to interfere with GPS and other commercial satellites, and may also affect power grids.
While these storms aren’t expected to be as large or damaging as a particularly severe solar storm, which has the potential to do up to $2 trillion worth of damage, it is curious that they are as severe as they are. The sun is supposed to be at the minimum point of the 11-year solar cycle, a point at which solar storm activity is supposed to be nearly non-existent. The fact that these storms are occurring anyways has perplexed scientists and left them wondering why the storms are occurring right now. You can find more information about these storms and aurora viewing information at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.