Disruptive solar storm heading toward Earth

Power grids, plane flights could be affected

Wednesday, March 7, 2012 4:52 PM
Last updated 11:59 PM
  • Follow Latest News

WASHINGTON — The largest solar storm in five years is racing toward Earth, threatening to unleash a torrent of charged particles that could disrupt power grids, GPS and airplane flights.

This extreme ultraviolet wavelength image provided by NASA shows a solar flare. An impressive solar flare is heading toward Earth and could disrupt power grids, GPS and airplane flights. An impressive solar flare is heading toward Earth and could disrupt power grids, GPS and airplane flights. Forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center said the sun erupted Tuesday evening and the effects should start smacking Earth late Wednesday night, close to midnight EST. They say it is the biggest in five years and growing.  AP Photo/NASA
AP Photo/NASA
This extreme ultraviolet wavelength image provided by NASA shows a solar flare. An impressive solar flare is heading toward Earth and could disrupt power grids, GPS and airplane flights. An impressive solar flare is heading toward Earth and could disrupt power grids, GPS and airplane flights. Forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center said the sun erupted Tuesday evening and the effects should start smacking Earth late Wednesday night, close to midnight EST. They say it is the biggest in five years and growing.

The sun erupted Tuesday evening, and the effects should start smacking Earth between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. EST Thursday, according to forecasters at the federal government’s Space Weather Prediction Center. They say the storm, which started with a massive solar flare, is growing as it speeds outward from the sun.

“It’s hitting us right in the nose,” said Joe Kunches, a scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He called it the sun’s version of “Super Tuesday.”

Scientists say the sun has been relatively quiet for some time. And this storm, while strong, may seem fiercer because Earth has been lulled by several years of weak solar activity.

“This is a good-size event, but not the extreme type,” said Bill Murtagh, program coordinator for the space weather center.

The solar storm is likely to last through Friday morning, but the region that erupted can still send more blasts our way, Kunches said. He said another set of active sunspots is ready to aim at Earth right after this.

But for now, scientists are waiting to see what happens Thursday when the charged particles hit Earth at 4 million mph.

NASA solar physicist Alex Young added, “It could give us a bit of a jolt.” But he said this is far from a super solar storm.

The storm is coming after an earlier and weaker solar eruption happened Sunday, Kunches said. The latest blast of particles will probably arrive slightly later than forecasters first thought.

That means for North America the “good” part of a solar storm — the one that creates more noticeable auroras or Northern Lights — will peak Thursday evening. Auroras could dip as far south as the Great Lakes states or lower, Kunches said, but a full moon will make them harder to see.

Auroras are “probably the treat we get when the sun erupts,” Kunches said.

But there is potential for widespread problems. Solar storms have three ways they can disrupt technology on Earth: with magnetic, radio and radiation emissions. This is an unusual situation when all three types of solar storm disruptions are likely to be strong, Kunches said.

That means “a whole host of things” could follow, he said.

The magnetic part of the storm has the potential to trip electrical power grids. Kunches said utility companies around the world have been alerted. The timing and speed of the storm determines whether it knocks off power grids, he said.

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

Solar storms can also make global positioning systems less accurate, which is mostly a problem for precision drilling and other technologies, Kunches said. There also could be GPS outages.

The storm also can cause communication problems and added radiation around the north and south poles, which will probably force airlines to reroute flights. Some already have done so, Kunches said.

Satellites could be affected, too. NASA spokesman Rob Navias said the space agency isn’t taking any extra precautions to protect astronauts on the International Space Station from added radiation.

___

Online:

NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center: www.swpc.noaa.gov

NASA on solar flare: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sunearth/news/News030712-X1.5.html

Comments (11)

Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
Riverman1
70973
Points
Riverman1 03/07/12 - 06:05 pm
4
0

Something headed to earth? A

Something headed to earth? A headline like that reminds me of a 50's SciFi black and white movie.

TrulyWorried
9969
Points
TrulyWorried 03/07/12 - 06:52 pm
2
0

Orson Welles would come in

Orson Welles would come in handy now. :>)

lovingthesouth72
1158
Points
lovingthesouth72 03/07/12 - 08:04 pm
3
0

I hope everyone has a paper

I hope everyone has a paper map on hand in case they need to get around!

TK3
562
Points
TK3 03/07/12 - 09:12 pm
0
0

If the scientists are wrong

If the scientists are wrong about the solar flares power you could find your power down, satellites, cell phones and sensitive computers knocked out. Lets hope they are right and this is NOT the big-one.
PS: Newer autos all have electronic/computer run hearts now.

Dixieman
10472
Points
Dixieman 03/07/12 - 09:36 pm
0
0

Nobody knows how to read a

Nobody knows how to read a paper map anymore.

debbiep38
316
Points
debbiep38 03/07/12 - 10:08 pm
0
0

OMG, not my Iphone

Unpublished

OMG, not my Iphone

CabisKhan
139
Points
CabisKhan 03/07/12 - 10:22 pm
1
0

I don't know about y'all, but

I don't know about y'all, but I have dusted off my tin foil hat.

Riverman1
70973
Points
Riverman1 03/08/12 - 05:37 am
0
0

Maybe there's a need for that

Maybe there's a need for that tin foil hat of mine after all.

curly123053
3245
Points
curly123053 03/08/12 - 08:19 am
0
0

They say there is supposed to

They say there is supposed to be a strong magnetic field with this solar storm. Better make sure you are not wearing any metal in your clothes or anywhere else or you might be in trouble. Where is Spock when you need him?

Bizkit
22192
Points
Bizkit 03/08/12 - 09:11 am
0
0

I prefer my official Tom

I prefer my official Tom Terrific funnel. It gets better reception than the ole tin foil hat. Now if only I had my mighty wonder dog Manfred to use as a barrier to deadly electromagnetic radiation. Maybe we will all start glowing like Moses in the Bible. Wouldn't that be stellar.

Little Lamb
40309
Points
Little Lamb 03/08/12 - 09:26 am
0
0

Just to be on the safe side,

Just to be on the safe side, I made a tin foil tent and put it on top of my computer. That way, I can keep on posting through the storm.

You know, some people say that the "several years of weak solar activity" mentioned in the article above has been the cause of global warming. Now that the normal pattern of solar activity is coming back, we could be in for a few years of cooling.

Little Lamb
40309
Points
Little Lamb 03/09/12 - 09:43 am
0
0

Well, my tin foil tent must

Well, my tin foil tent must have worked because I kept on posting through the storm.

By the way, is the solar storm over? Is it safe to take the tin foil tent down?

Back to Top

Top headlines

Georgia Bank & Trust has new president, board chairman

Ron Thigpen will be Georgia Bank & Trust's new president as CEO Dan Blanton has more duties with American Bankers Association.
Loading...