Disaster Fact Checks

FACT CHECK: No technology yet to predict solar storms with pinpoint accuracy


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FACT CHECK: No technology yet to predict solar storms with pinpoint accuracy
Scientists rely on continuous monitoring, historical data, satellite data, and predictive models to forecast space weather

Claim: Solar storms can be predicted accurately before they occur.

Rating: FALSE

Why we fact-checked this: The Facebook post, shared on November 18, has garnered over 18,000 reactions, 3,200 comments, and 53,000 shares as of writing. 

The post’s caption read: “The solar superstorm will happen on November 24.” It was edited after the post reached 18,000 reactions. 

The facts: Scientists have developed predictive models and rely on continuous monitoring of solar activity to forecast solar storms, but not yet to the degree of exact accuracy. 

According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Space Weather Prediction Center forecast on November 24, no geomagnetic or solar radiation storms are expected.

Solar storm forecast: A solar magnetic storm, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), refers to the explosive ejection of plasma from the sun. When directed at the Earth, solar storms can impact the planet’s atmosphere and deform the Earth’s magnetic shield, potentially causing disruptions to satellites, power grids, and communication systems.

Scientists monitor activity on the sun during a solar cycle, the reversal of the sun’s magnetic north and south poles which happens every 11 years. By monitoring solar phenomena and forecasting the solar cycle, scientists are able to anticipate the probability of solar flares and CMEs occurring. NOAA projects that the current solar cycle, Cycle 25, will reach its peak between January and October 2024.

As of writing, there are no reports of a solar superstorm. A CME was spotted on November 15, but was not directed at the Earth. The latest report of potential geomagnetic disturbances occurring between November 4 to 10 was issued by the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center on November 4, and said some CMEs “may reach Earth as at least glancing blows.”

Forecast methods: Scientists predict solar storms and space weather by looking at satellite data, historical data, data from observation and ground-based instruments, and predictive models.

In a 2007 article, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory enabled scientists to give advance notice “as much as an hour” when a storm is approaching. 

“Solar radiation storms are notoriously difficult to predict. They often take us by surprise, but now we’ve found a way to anticipate these events,” physicist Arik Posner said.

Scientists have also been developing forecast methods that would give one to three days’ notice of impending solar storms and solar flares, such as a warning system at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center and a new solar flare forecast method developed by scientists from the Institute for Earth-Environmental Research in Japan. The US Naval Research Laboratory and scientists from George Mason University are also working to develop an early warning system that could provide between 18 to 24 hours of advance notice.

In March 2023, NASA announced that the DAGGER computer model, which combines artificial intelligence and satellite data, can predict solar storm impacts on earth with a 30-minute lead time.

“With this AI, it is now possible to make rapid and accurate global predictions and inform decisions in the event of a solar storm, thereby minimizing – or even preventing – devastation to modern society,” said Vishal Upendran of the Inter-University Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics in India. – Marie Flor Cabarrubias/Rappler.com

Marie Flor Cabarrubias is a Rappler Intern. She is a fourth year Communication Research student at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines Sta. Mesa Manila.

This fact check was reviewed by a member of Rappler’s research team and a senior editor. Learn more about Rappler’s fact-checking mentorship program here. Keep us aware of suspicious Facebook pages, groups, accounts, websites, articles, or photos in your network by contacting us at factcheck@rappler.com. Let us battle disinformation one Fact Check at a time.

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