Skip to main content

Solar storms! Full moon! Must be Friday the 13th

  • Solar flares this week are sending storms Earth's way
  • Scientists say it's unlikely humans will see effects
  • Storms, full moon converging above Earth this Friday the 13th
  • U.S. scientists are monitoring situation, will send alerts if necessary

(CNN) -- Common Western superstition says Friday the 13th is unlucky. But what does it say about a Friday the 13th with a full moon and solar flares that could create geomagnetic storms large enough to disrupt Earth's atmosphere?

We may find out this Friday.

NASA cameras captured three major solar flares this week -- events in which the sun hurls powerful bursts of matter into the atmosphere. When large enough, these bursts send shock waves -- called coronal mass ejections, or CMEs -- throughout space.

These shock waves pose no direct threat to humans, but sometimes, on days such as June 13, CMEs can be large enough to disrupt GPS, satellite communications and other atmospheric systems, according to NASA.

Just our luck.

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which observes the sun 24 hours a day, captures this image of an X-class solar flare at 7:42 a.m. ET Tuesday, June 10. X-class flares are the most powerful. Check out more images of recent solar flares and related activity: NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which observes the sun 24 hours a day, captures this image of an X-class solar flare at 7:42 a.m. ET Tuesday, June 10. X-class flares are the most powerful. Check out more images of recent solar flares and related activity:
Solar flares and sunspots
Solar flares and sunspots Solar flares and sunspots
Hubble's 4-year exploding star timelapse

"A CME ... has been observed moving at a flank from Earth and a glancing blow to Earth from this event is expected on June 13," said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in a statement. "An outside chance of at most G1 (Minor) Geomagnetic storms remains in the forecast."

Translation: Despite the ominous "glancing blow" language, there's no reason to be alarmed. The disruption of communication systems in the atmosphere is still unlikely, even with the impending solar storms.

People in remote areas of the Northern Hemisphere may even get a light show Friday night. Some scientists believe the storms will produce brightly colored auroras visible in the night sky, although others disagree.

Either way, it's been awhile since we've seen such as an event. The last major CME to hit Earth came in 1859.

Tony Phillips, curator of, analyzed the last 17 Friday the 13ths "for fun" in response to a CNN request. He concluded that Friday's solar-related activity was an outlier.

"Of course, there is no actual correlation between solar flares and Friday the 13th," he said in an e-mail to CNN. "(But) today ... is shaping up to be the most active of the past 10 years, albeit not by a wide margin. Friday the 13th in May 2005 was similar."

Phillips, who is also production editor for science at NASA, categorized only four Friday the 13ths in the last decade as "high solar activity."

Thus, NOAA remains on watch.

According to its website, "forecasters are keeping a close eye on the Sun and we will update you should conditions warrant it."

Solar activity varies in its intensity, but there has been an uptick in solar flares and related episodes in recent years. This is not a surprise. This week, NASA released a statement dubbing this new solar activity a natural occurrence and part of the star's cycle of life.

They called it a "mini-max." Because, historically speaking, it's not that bad.

"This solar cycle continues to rank among the weakest on record," said NASA adviser Ron Turner in a post online. "In the historical record, there are only a few Solar Maxima weaker than this one."

He has a point.

In all likelihood, the Earth's atmosphere, satellite systems and humans all will remain unaffected by the solar flares and their corresponding CMEs.

Well, maybe we are lucky after all.

Part of complete coverage on
Science news
updated 3:34 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Nichelle Nichols has spent her whole life going where no one has gone before, and at 81 she's still as sassy and straight-talking as you'd expect from an interstellar explorer.
updated 7:52 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
The world's largest flying aquatic insect, with huge, nightmarish pincers, has been discovered in China's Sichuan province.
updated 8:10 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
As fans of "Grey's Anatomy," "ER" and any other hospital-based show can tell you, emergency-room doctors are fighting against time.
updated 7:59 AM EDT, Thu May 29, 2014
Ask 100 robotics scientists why they're inspired to create modern-day automatons and you may get 100 different answers.
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
From the air, the Namibian desert looks like it has a bad case of chicken pox.
updated 12:43 PM EDT, Wed May 28, 2014
The trend for nature-inspired designs has spread across industries from crab-style deep-sea vessels to insect-inspired buildings.
updated 8:22 AM EDT, Sun May 25, 2014
Consider it the taxonomist's equivalent of a People magazine's Most Beautiful List.
updated 11:32 AM EDT, Fri May 9, 2014
For the first time, scientists have shown it is possible to alter the biological alphabet and still have a living organism that passes on the genetic information.
updated 7:48 AM EDT, Mon May 5, 2014
Do we really want to go the route of "Jurassic Park"?
updated 8:44 AM EDT, Fri May 2, 2014
Catch a train from the sky! Perhaps in the future, the high-rise superstructures could help revolutionize the way we travel.
updated 10:58 AM EDT, Mon May 5, 2014
In a nondescript hotel ballroom last month at the South by Southwest Interactive festival, Andras Forgacs offered a rare glimpse at the sci-fi future of food.
updated 10:12 AM EDT, Thu March 20, 2014
For a Tyrannosaurus rex looking for a snack, nothing might have tasted quite like the "chicken from hell."
updated 6:29 PM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
Everyone is familiar with Tyrannosaurus rex, but humanity is only now meeting its much smaller Arctic cousin.
updated 12:12 PM EST, Thu March 6, 2014
At about 33 feet long, weighing 4 to 5 tons and baring large blade-shaped teeth, the dinosaur Torvosaurus gurneyi was a formidable creature.
updated 6:43 AM EST, Fri February 21, 2014
This Pachyrhinosaurus can go to the head of its class.
updated 8:04 AM EDT, Thu March 27, 2014
Science is still trying to work out how exactly we reason through moral problems, and how we judge others on the morality of their actions. But patterns are emerging.
updated 7:06 PM EST, Thu February 27, 2014
A promising way to stop a deadly disease, or an uncomfortable step toward what one leading ethicist called eugenics?
updated 8:07 PM EST, Fri February 14, 2014
Seattle paleontologists safely removed the largest fossilized mammoth tusk discovered in the region from a construction site.
updated 6:13 AM EDT, Tue April 23, 2013
A mysterious, circular structure, with a diameter greater than the length of a Boeing 747 jet, has been discovered submerged about 30 feet underneath the Sea of Galilee in Israel.
updated 5:25 PM EST, Fri January 17, 2014
Every corner of the planet offers some sort of natural peculiarity with an explanation that makes us wish we'd studied harder in junior high Earth science class.
updated 8:20 AM EST, Thu November 14, 2013
Deep in a remote, hot, dry patch of northwestern Australia lies one of the earliest detectable signs of life on the planet, tracing back nearly 3.5 billion years, scientists say.
updated 3:10 PM EDT, Wed September 4, 2013
We leave genetic traces of ourselves wherever we go -- in a strand of hair left on the subway or in saliva on the side of a glass at a cafe.