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Fact check: No, a massive solar storm is not approaching Earth any time soon

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The claim: A massive solar storm is imminently approaching Earth

Sweltering temperatures are being felt in the Pacific Northwest and western Canada due to an unprecedented heat wave that started around the end of June. Hundreds of people have died so far, as have millions of shellfish boiled alive off the coast of Vancouver, British Columbia. 

One might think the sun, our planet's source of heat, is responsible, and it may be, but only very slightly. The actual culprit is a high-pressure system, or anticyclone, that's essentially a mountain of warm air built into a wavy jet stream. 

The sun, however, could be responsible for something more destructive and imminent, claim many on social media.

"A massive solar storm heading towards Earth could affect GPS, internet and satellites," reads an image shared in a July 14 Instagram post that has received nearly 500,000 interactions, according to CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned social media analytics tool.

A July 13 post on Facebook claims the event has experts worried the storm's "strong winds may trigger a geomagnetic storm in Earth's atmosphere," and may even have a more widespread terrestrial impact by knocking out "power grids in some parts of the world." 

USA TODAY has reached out to the posters for comment. 

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This all sounds very concerning. But the posts' portends of a looming solar-related disaster aren't at all true. 

Solar flare already passed, none expected soon

There are no forecasts for upcoming major solar storms, and these posts seem to reference one that occurred earlier in July.

The claims appear to derive from articles published in Indian news outlets such as Times of India, Hindustan Times and the Indian Express. All articles, claiming NASA as a source for their information, allege "a solar storm" would hit Earth around July 13.

Solar activity did happen, but much earlier. 

"The sun emitted a significant solar flare peaking at 10:29 a.m. EDT on July 3, 2021," NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory said in its official blog

A solar flare is an intense burst of electromagnetic energy associated with sunspots, according to the space agency. How often these bursts occur corresponds with where the sun is in its 11-year solar cycle, a period during which the fiery star flips its magnetic fields between its north and south poles.

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The solar flare was registered as a powerful X1-class sun event, according to the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center, or SWPC, which tracks solar weather events.

The X1-class flare – the most powerful of the three main types – along with a medium-sized M2-class flare, led to brief but noteworthy radio blackouts, according to both SWPC and space advocacy group The Planetary Society. No other significant satellite concerns or downed power grids were reported. 

The claim a solar flare may trigger a geomagnetic storm in Earth's atmosphere is also unfounded. Readings of the Planetary K-index, a measure of our planet's geomagnetic disturbances, indicated there were some moderate magnetic changes during the July 3 flare, but not enough to cause even a minor storm, reported Raleigh, North Carolina, NBC affiliate WRAL

Since then, there have been no significant solar storms or geomagnetic disturbances noted by SWPC. 

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The last time a solar storm caused mayhem on Earth was on March 13, 1989, when the entire Canadian province of Quebec suffered a massive power failure, which also disrupted electricity to parts of the Northeastern U.S. The event has since been known as the Quebec Blackout

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim a massive solar storm is imminently approaching Earth. A massive solar flare was observed on July 3 and led to some brief radio blackouts but nothing else. Since then, there have been no significant solar storms or geomagnetic disturbances noted by the Space Weather Prediction Center. And none are expected in the immediate future.

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