Solar flare blasts radiation storm toward Earth

The burst of plasma from a solar flare is expected to reach the Earth's magnetic field tomorrow and potentially cause disruptions to satellites.

A solar flare, seen on the top right, has caused a solar storm that could affect satellites and communications equipment in polar regions. National Weather Service's Space Weather Prediction Center

A fastball of high-energy matter from the Sun is blasting toward the Earth and is expected to cause the largest solar radiation storm since 2005.

Late last night, a solar flare caused a coronal mass ejection, or the release of a burst of charged particles, from the sun's atmosphere, and it's heading toward the Earth at 1,400 miles per second, according to NASA.

The concern is that a magnetic storm from the solar flare could affect GPS systems and some communications systems, especially in higher altitudes in the north. NASA estimates that the storm could reach the Earth's magnetic field as early as tomorrow morning Eastern Time.

"With the radiation storm in progress now, satellite operators could be experiencing trouble, and there are probably impacts as well to high frequency [radio] communications in polar regions," Doug Biesecker, a physicist at the Space Weather Prediction Center, told the Washington Post.

Spaceweather.com said the cloud that broke off from an active sun spot will deliver a "strong glancing blow" to the Earth's magnetic field.

Ranked an S3 event by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the radiation storm could mean such things as isolated reboots of Earth-orbiting satellites, according to Spaceweather.com. Spacecraft are not expected to be launched during the event, and aircraft that travel in polar regions will be rerouted as well.

So far, no impacts from the radiation storm have been noticed, and the Earth has seen stronger geomagnetic activity as recently as 2010, according to the National Weather Service's Space Weather Prediction Center.

A very visible impact from plasma ejected during the solar storm is bright auroras around the Arctic Circle (which have been captured in stunning images). The storm can also disrupt the electrical grid, according to the AP.

 

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