Thursday, September 11, 2014

Solar storm heading for Earth

Solar storm heading for Earth

Doyle Rice, USA TODAY
 


A solar flare that launched off the sun Wednesday afternoon could wreak havoc with communications systems and power systems on the Earth, as well as with satellites in orbit, in coming days.

Forecasters with NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center said the flare already "caused impacts to high-frequency radio communications on Earth today," according to NOAA. "A coronal mass ejection (CME) associated with this event is likely, but further analysis is necessary to determine whether it will produce geomagnetic storming on Earth."

A coronal mass ejection contains billions of tons of energetic hydrogen and helium ions as well as protons and electrons ejected from the sun's surface.

If a CME occurred, Earth's magnetosphere will likely be disturbed and a geomagnetic storm could result in the next few days, NOAA reports.

NOAA space weather forecaster Bill Murtagh said that scientists will know more about when and where the impacts will be when more data comes in later Wednesday and early Thursday.

The flare is on the high end of the solar flare scale. One nice side effect of the solar storm is an expansion of the photogenic aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, across Canada and the northern U.S.

The Northern Lights appear when atoms in the Earth's high-altitude atmosphere collide with energetic charged particles from the sun. They usually appear as shimmering green waves of light in the nighttime sky in polar latitudes. Much more rarely, they can be red and even blue.

Contributing: Beth Weise, USA TODAY; Associated Press

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