Historic Solar Storm Impacts Earth, South African National Space Agency Issues Alerts

A historic solar storm rattled Earth throughout the night of Friday, May 10th, 2023, and extended into the next day, prompting the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) to issue several G4 warnings. In a rare occurrence, a G5 warning was also issued, marking the first time since 2003 such a severe warning has been issued.

The Geomagnetic Storm Scale, denoted by a G followed by a number from 1 to 5, categorises the severity of geomagnetic storms. A geomagnetic storm ensues when charged particles from the sun, triggered by a coronal mass ejection (CME), interact with Earth’s magnetic field. While these phenomena are the genesis of the spectacular auroras, they also pose significant risks to technological infrastructure, potentially disrupting satellite communications, power grids, and GPS systems.

Reports of the Southern Lights, also known as Aurora Australis, adorned the skies over the Southern tip of Africa, with sightings documented from Gansbaai in the Western Cape to Namibia and beyond. The collision of energetic particles from the Sun with gases in the upper atmosphere creates these mesmerising displays.

Jon Ward, the acting Executive Director at SANSA Space Science in Hermanus, emphasised the magnitude of this geomagnetic storm, remarking it as the largest observed in a considerable duration. Ward underscored the criticality of acknowledging space weather phenomena, noting the vulnerability of energy and transportation sectors in particular.

“Space weather is a global phenomenon,” Ward stated, going on to elaborate on how regional impacts are contingent upon the timing of the storm and whether it coincides with day or night. South Africa’s investment in SANSA’s Space Weather Centre highlights the importance of understanding and preparing for such events.

The SANSA Space Weather Centre, operational 24/7 since November 2022, spearheads efforts to monitor and mitigate space weather risks on the African continent. As Africa’s sole accredited Space Weather Center, SANSA has been at the forefront of Space weather research and forecasting since 2009.

In light of the recent solar storm’s impact, SANSA urges businesses reliant on vulnerable technologies to incorporate space weather into their risk management strategies. With society’s increasing dependence on interconnected technology, awareness and preparedness for space weather events are paramount in safeguarding against potential disruptions.