Active Sunspot produces significant solar flare

At 0240 UTC, 13 December (8:40 P.M. CST, 12 December) the SOHO/LASCO instrument observed a powerful and fast Earth directed coronal mass ejection (CME) producing strong radio blackouts (R3). This was associated with an S2 (Moderate) solar radiation storm . As a result of this activity, a significant geomagnetic storm is expected to impact the Earth approximately 1800 UTC, 14 December (Noon  CST).

An event of this magnitude is extraordinary under normal circumstances, but it is even more impressive since we are presently in the minimum of the 11 year sun spot cycle. Solar events of this magnitude often result in satellite communications disruptions. Also, solar storms of this magnitude, when directed toward Earth, can trigger impressive Northern Lights displays. We may be in luck Thursday night with the potential for a significant Northern Lights display. This will coincide with the peak of the Geminid meteor shower, already expected to be quite impressive. A waning moon, and unseasonably mild December temperatures will allow for near perfect viewing conditions, if skies clear enough. Unfortunately, it does not appear that skies will clear for long enough periods of time in our area to see the expected Northern Lights.

Geomagnetic storms are a natural hazard, like hurricanes and tsunamis, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Space Environment Center (SEC) forecasts for the public’s benefit. Severe geomagnetic storms cause communications problems, abruptly increase drag on spacecraft, and can cause electric utility blackouts over a wide area. The location of Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satellite between the earth and the sun will enable ACE to give about a one hour advance warning of impending geomagnetic activity.

NOAA has arranged for the transmission of a subset of data from four ACE instruments during the times when ACE is not transmitting it’s full telemetry to the Deep Space Network. For about 21 of 24 hours per day, ACE will send data (~464 bps) to NOAA operated ground stations. During the other three hours when NASA is getting high rate data through the Deep Space Network, NOAA will get a copy of the real time data. NOAA will process all the data (using algorithms provided by the ACE experimenters) at its Space Weather Operations (SWO) in Boulder, Colorado, which will issue any warnings of expected geomagnetic activity.

Data used to provide space weather services are contributed by NOAA, US Air Force, NASA, National Science Foundation, US Geological Survey, the International Space Environment Services and other observatories, universities, and institutions.  More information is available at SEC’s Web site


G4 Severe Geomagnetic Storm implies:

  • Power systems: possible widespread voltage control problems and some protective systems will mistakenly trip out key assets from the grid.
  • Spacecraft operations: may experience surface charging and tracking problems, corrections may be needed for orientation problems.
  • Other systems: induced pipeline currents affect preventive measures, HF radio propagation sporadic, satellite navigation degraded for hours, low-frequency radio navigation disrupted, and aurora has been seen as low as Alabama and northern California (typically 45̊ geomagnetic lat.)

G3 Strong Geomagnetic Storm Implies:

  • Power systems: voltage corrections may be required, false alarms triggered on some protection devices.
  • Spacecraft operations: surface charging may occur on satellite components, drag may increase on low-Earth-orbit satellites, and corrections may be needed for orientation problems.
  • Other systems: intermittent satellite navigation and low-frequency radio navigation problems may occur, HF radio may be intermittent, and aurora has been seen as low as Illinois and Oregon (typically 50̊ geomagnetic lat.)

R3 (Strong) Radio Blackout implies the following:

  • a wide area blackout of HF (High Frequency) radio communication, with a loss of radio contact for about an hour on sunlit side of Earth.
  • low-frequency navigation signals are degraded for about an hour.

S2 (Moderate) Solar Radiation Storm implies the following:

  • passengers and crew in high-flying aircraft at high latitudes may be exposed to elevated radiation risk.
  • infrequent single-event upsets of satellite operations are possible.
  • small effects on HF propagation through the polar regions, and navigation at polar cap locations are possibly affected.

More information on the Geomagnetic Storm, Radio Blackout and Solar Radiation Storm scales may be found at: 

Additional information is available at

Images from the High Altitude Observatory in Boulder Colorado

X-Ray image of the Sun

Images from the High Altitude Observatory in Boulder Colorado


Go here for Current Space Weather Conditions.  For more information contact the NWS in Grand Forks at 701.772.0720

Mark Ewens, Data Acquisition Program Manager

Return to News Archive is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.