Sun, Jul 15, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Solar storm sends charged particles racing toward Earth

STIRRING STAR:The storm began on Thursday when the sun unleashed a flare that hurled charged particles toward us at 4.8 million kilometers per hour

AP, LOS ANGELES

A solar storm was due to arrive yesterday and last through today, slamming into Earth’s magnetic field.

Scientists said it would be a minor event, and they have notified power grid operators, airlines and other potentially affected parties.

“We don’t see any ill effects to any systems,” forecaster Joe Kunches at the US Space Weather Prediction Center in Colorado said.

There is a bright side to stormy space weather: It tends to spawn colorful northern lights as the charged particles bombard Earth’s outer magnetic field.

Shimmering auroras may be visible at the US-Canada border and in northern Europe this weekend, Kunches said.

The storm began on Thursday when the sun unleashed a massive flare that hurled a cloud of highly charged particles racing toward Earth at 4.8 million kilometers per hour.

It was the sixth time this year that such a powerful solar outburst has occurred. None of the previous storms caused major problems.

In severe cases, solar storms can cause power blackouts, damage satellites, and disrupt global positioning system signals and high-frequency radio communications. Airlines are sometimes forced to reroute flights to avoid the extra radiation around the north and south poles.

In 1989, a strong solar storm knocked out the power grid in Quebec, Canada, causing 6 million people to lose electricity.

Juha-Pekka Luntama, a space weather expert at the European Space Agency, said utility and navigation operators “will certainly see something, but they will probably find ways to deal with any problems.”

The storm is part of the sun’s normal 11-year cycle of solar activity, which is supposed to reach its peak next year.

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