Largest solar storm in five years racing toward Earth

A solar storm set to pummel Earth Thursday through Friday morning could cause some disruptions on Earth -- and give us a Northern Lights treat.
Written by Laura Shin, Contributor

A solar storm on its way to Earth could disrupt power grids, GPS systems and airplane flights -- and treat us to a view of Northern Lights.

The storm, which erupted Tuesday evening, will hit Earth between 1am and 5am EST on Thursday and pummel earth through Friday morning.

The solar storm, which began with a massive solar flare, is sending highly charged particles toward Earth; they are accelerating as they move through space and will smack into Earth at a speed of four million miles an hour.

"It's hitting us right in the nose," Joe Kunches, a scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told The Wall Street Journal. However, this is not a super solar storm -- it is just the first strong one after several years of little solar activity.

One upside of the solar storm is that it will create more visible Northern Lights, or auroras, which are natural light displays in the sky sparked by the collision between highly charged particles and atoms in the high-altitude atmosphere; they are most commonly seen in the Arctic, but Thursday evening they may be seen as far south as the Great Lakes states (though the full moon may obscure them).

In terms of the impact on Earth, GPS systems may be less accurate or experience outages. Communications systems may break down and the north and south poles will have more radiation, so airlines have already begun to reroute flights.

It could affect power systems, the way a strong solar storm did in 1989, when it put six million people in Quebec in the dark.

In the near future, more solar storms may hit Earth from the region that erupted, because it currently has even more active sunspots there.

via: The Wall Street Journal, NASA

photo: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory/AIA

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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