Overview of May 2024 Geomagnetic Activity

On 10 May 2024, the world’s only funded space weather center, NOAA-SWPC, predicted that a worse case scenario of a second Carrington Event was possible. They made this prediction available to the public on the day of the first CME arrival, which is too late for any individual or business to respond. They were supposed to give this warning to the public 3 days ahead of time, but perhaps that was impossible since the sunspot cluster materialized rapidly and they said in their press release that they were prioritizing communications with FEMA due to this event.

A second Carrington Event did not occur because the coronal mass ejections did not reach the magnetic field strength or speed necessary for a major event. The magnetic field strength of a potential severe 1859-level event would be approximately -850 to -1200 nT or more negative Dst (Disturbance Storm Time Index) as measured by a ground-based magnetic observatory. The speed of a potential severe CME event would be approximately 2000 – 3000+ km/s as measured by DSCOVR, a satellite at the L1 Lagrange point. The speed and energy of the 1859 event are only estimated but are crucial factors in determining the severity of a geomagnetic storm. If the CME’s magnetic field is too weak, it is unlikely to induce currents that may cause technological disturbances. If the CME is too slow, it may dissipate as it travels through space. This is what happened during the May 2024 solar storms – the CME pair and solar wind across the week was too slow and too weak to cause any major, ground-based disturbance of technology. The strongest Dst recorded for May 2024 was -412 nT and the speed of the CMEs did not exceed 1000 km/s, according to the observatory records and satellites. However, other factors were recorded and met, such as multiple Earth-directed CMEs, a southward component of the CME’s magnetic field, and a 16-Earth-diameter sunspot cluster. The Carrington Event was not a one-day event, it was an event across a week period like what occurred in May 2024. However, these May geomagnetic storms should be viewed as our last warning. Further, we do not have a solar satellite constellation to fully monitor the farside activity of the Sun or CME dynamics and therefore we have limited ability to monitor CMEs at all. A solar satellite constellation is the only satellite constellation that we should be building. We also need dozens of more magnetic observatories in order to accurately monitor location-based consequences of CME arrivals.

Not only was SWPC’s prediction misleading and the timing of notification too late, their website also did not even convey accurate, timely, or helpful information on the current events of the significant space weather, either. Therefore, the world does not have access to any accurate space weather monitoring or prediction for unusual events. SWPC was supposed to tell SpaceX not to launch during this event and they failed to do so. Consequently, over one hundred satellites re-entered and SpaceX says this was “planned” but it most certainly was not. Satellites can be lost from single charged particles causing electronic upsets and root cause failures from single particles are typically not determinable post-failure. The consequences of the May 2024 solar storms may not even be fully known at this time and may be the cause of reports of severe airplane turbulence. As was made clear in this event, we cannot predict severe space weather or unusual events with much accuracy, especially because there is such limited means of measurement of the sparsely-located, aging instruments. If we had more solar and magnetic observatories, perhaps we could predict potential severe events with some accuracy. We must prepare for the consequences of our Sun’s activity now and we cannot wait for or rely on NOAA due to their very limited means of measurement. We have to have a plan for a possible degradation of technology and indeed NOAA-SWPC said this in their press release as well. I recommend all review the government’s space weather page carefully.

It is relatively hard to study the sun compared to other sciences or fields because it is a generational science. Each solar physicist may only witness and study a few solar cycles across their lifetimes. Funding and opportunity for space weather and solar physics is also infrequent and most solar and plasma physicists are only funded to study one small aspect of the Sun and there’s very little effort to integrate generational knowledge, let alone integrate that knowledge with emerging technological or societal risks. That’s why it is crucial that we invest more in space weather and solar physics. We live in a solar system and therefore the dynamics of the Sun should be our focus as planetary residents.