Strongest Geomagnetic Storm In 6 Years Could Hit Flights & Power Grids

First Posted: 01/24/2012 

The strongest geomagnetic storm in more than six years is set to hit the Earth’s magnetic field today.

Airline routes, power grids and satellites could all be affected, according to the US Space Weather Prediction Centre.

The storm is caused by a violent coronal mass ejection – a chunk of the Sun’s atmosphere driving energized solar particles at around 5 million mph – which is expected to arrive at around 2pm GMT.

The energy could interfere with high frequency radio communications used by airlines to navigate close to the North Pole.

Astronauts on board the International Space Station have also been advised to shield themselves to avoid a heightened dose of radiation, Sky News said.

The centre’s Terry Onsager said: “When it hits us, it’s like a big battering ram that pushes the Earth’s magnetic field.

“That energy causes Earth’s magnetic field to fluctuate.”

A rush of radiation in the form of solar protons has already started bombarding the Earth and is due to continue until tomorrow, AFP reported.

Doug Biesecker, a physicist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said that although the radiation storm is the most severe since 2005, it still only ranks a three on a scale of one to five.

According to Biesecker, this ranking means: “It could, for example, cause isolated reboots of computers onboard Earth-orbiting satellite and interfere with polar radio communications.”



 Solar storm’s effects to lash Earth through Wednesday

Our planet is being bombarded by high-energy particles unleashed by the strongest solar storm since 2005, scientists say.

The charged particles are mostly a concern for satellites – which they can disrupt – and astronauts.

But they can also cause communication problems for aircraft travelling near the poles.

The geomagnetic storm has been caused by a potent flare that erupted from the Sun at 0400 GMT on Monday.

The effects are likely to be felt on Earth throughout Wednesday.

A more benign effect of the outpouring of particles is the ability to see aurorae, or “Northern lights”, further south than is usually possible.

A spokesman for US space agency Nasa said that flight surgeons and solar scientists have modelled the flare’s predicted effects.

They decided that the six astronauts on the International Space Station do not have to take any action to protect themselves from the incoming stream of particles.

Solar flares are caused by the sudden release of magnetic energy stored in the Sun’s atmosphere.

In an event called a coronal mass ejection (CME), bursts of charged particles are released into space.

Nasa’s Goddard Space Weather Center predicted that the coronal mass ejection was moving at almost 2,200 km/s when it was due to reach Earth’s magnetosphere – the magnetic envelope that surrounds our planet – on Tuesday at 1400 GMT (plus or minus 7 hours).

This can interfere with technology on Earth, such as electrical power grids, communications systems and satellites – including satellite navigation (or sat-nav) signals.

In 1972, a geomagnetic storm provoked by a solar flare knocked out long-distance telephone communication across the US state of Illinois.

And in 1989, another storm plunged six million people into darkness across the Canadian province of Quebec.

But a spokesman for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (Noaa) Space Weather Prediction Center said the effects of this solar eruption seem likely to be moderate.

Source:  BBC News

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