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In 2020, Earth narrowly avoided catastrophe

Don't panic.

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In August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted that a powerful solar flare that had erupted from the Sun would hit Earth’s magnetic field.

Panic ensued as news reports warned of this potentially catastrophic event, adding on to the woes of the year 2020.

Inverse is counting down the 20 most universe-altering moments of 2020. This is number 19. See the full list here.

On August 16, NOAA spotted a solar flare erupting from the Sun's surface. The slow-motion flare created a shock wave through the star's atmosphere and sent a small ripple toward Earth's magnetic field.

This coronal mass ejection from the Sun wasn’t due to hit our planet head on, but NOAA predicted it could graze our planet's magnetic field. As a result, there was a real possibility minor geomagnetic storms and high-latitude auroras would occur, sending our electronic systems into chaos.

Coronal mass ejections are highly energetic eruptions from the Sun and the main source of major space weather events.

A coronal mass ejection from 2015.

Solar Dynamics Observatory, NASA

Essentially, they are giant bubbles of gas and magnetic flux released from the Sun, carrying up to a billion tons of charged particles and traveling at speeds of several million miles per hour. These clouds, and the shock waves they cause, occasionally reach Earth and cause geomagnetic storms.

Geomagnetic storms are major disturbances of Earth's magnetosphere – the space surrounding our planet governed by our magnetic field. The storms sometimes result in beautiful aurorae, but they can also cause disruptions in global navigation systems and power grids.

This particular coronal mass ejection resulted from a B1-class solar flare, which is rather weak relative to some explosive flares.

NOAA had predicted the resulting geomagnetic storm would be a category G1, or a minor storm. Minor geomagnetic storms may have some effect on power grids and satellite operations — or they may have no effect at all.

Our Sun is an active star, periodically subject to events like coronal mass ejections, high-speed solar wind, and solar flares. These events are massive, but considering our distance from the host star, they don’t always impact us on Earth.

Something to keep in mind next time there’s word out about an incoming solar flare. Don't panic.

Inverse is counting down the 20 most universe-altering moments of 2020. This is number 20. Read the original story here.

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