Solar radiation storm sweeps over Earth

The Space Weather Prediction Center publishes a map showing the reach of the solar radiation hurtling past Earth. Some flights have been rerouted to avoid the north pole.

The red regions show where the high-energy particles that erupted from the sun's surface on Sunday are entering the Earth's upper atmosphere.
The red regions show where the high-energy particles that erupted from the sun's surface on Sunday are entering the Earth's upper atmosphere.

The Earth is being bombarded with the strongest blast of radiation from the sun since 2003, an event that could cause isolated disruptions to communications and air travel.

The National Weather Service's Space Weather Prediction Center on Tuesday morning published a map showing the solar radiation storm touching the upper atmosphere in the Earth's poles.

"The red that can be seen at the poles is where the energetic particles enter and where airliners and spacecraft, should try to avoid," according to the agency which is based in Boulder, Colorado.

On Sunday night, a solar flare caused a burst of charged particles from the sun to break off and fly toward Earth at 5 million miles per hour. The high-energy particles from the coronal mass ejection are bringing a burst of solar radiation that affects the Earth's magnetic field.

The event is ranked as an S3-level, or strong, solar radiation storm, which impacts high-frequency communications and can cause electronic errors in spacecraft. "Even passengers flying in high altitude aircraft are at higher than normal radiation risk," according to the Space Prediction Center. The agency said that it has received reports that at least some airline flights over the north pole have been rerouted and flights normally done at high altitudes are being done at lower altitudes.

The peak space weather is expected to hit the Earth in the morning, Eastern Time, in the U.S. and then phase out over the coming hours and days, according to NOAA and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

Based on measurements of the high-energy protons given off by the coronal mass ejection (CME), the Space Weather Prediction Center Tuesday morning said this is the largest solar radiation storm since October 2003 (known as the Halloween Storms), not January 2005 as stated earlier.

It is forecast to be a moderate, G2-level geomagnetic storm with strong, G3 levels possible. A G2 level event will cause spacecraft to correct their orientation and affect their communications. Power grid systems at high altitude may have voltage problems.

Updated with additional details at 8:41 a.m. PT.

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