March 8th, 2012
05:08 PM ET

Solar storms causing few problems on Earth

Geomagnetic and solar radiation storms hitting Earth after Tuesday's solar flares may not be as big as advertised, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday.

Together, such storms can affect GPS systems, other satellite systems and power grids, but none of these problems has been reported, even as the leading edge of the sun's coronal mass ejections from Tuesday hit Earth on Thursday morning, scientists said.

The geomagnetic storm has reached only G1 intensity on a scale from G1 (weak) to G5 (extreme), and the solar radiation storm is an S3 (strong) on a similar 1-to-5 scale, NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center said. Earlier, NOAA had predicted a G3/S4 event.

Still, the solar radiation storm has prompted some airlines to divert planes from routes near the north pole, where radio communications may be affected and passengers at high altitudes may be at a higher than normal radiation risk.

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March 7th, 2012
04:06 PM ET

Solar storm heads for Earth

U.S. politics had its "Super Tuesday" yesterday, and so did the sun, says Joseph Kunches from NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado.

That's because the sun had two solar flares associated with two coronal mass ejections. Coronal mass ejections involve massive amounts of energy and charged particles shooting out of the sun, and can cause problems if directed at Earth, as was the case over the last couple of days.

This event may stir up a geomagnetic storm, and lead to disruptions to high-frequency radio communications, global positioning systems and power grids, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center said Wednesday. The peak of the storm is expected to hit Thursday morning; it may gradually diminish by Friday morning.

One of these coronal mass ejections is the strongest since December 2006, NOAA said. The equivalent of 10 billion tons of highly charged particles are hurtling at a rate of 3 million to 4 million miles an hour toward Earth. NASA says the leading edge of this coronal mass ejection will hit Earth at 1:25 a.m. E.T. (give or take seven hours).
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Filed under: In Space • the Sun

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