Massive solar storm headed toward Earth

A strong solar storm is expected to hit Earth shortly, and experts warn it could disrupt power grids, satellite navigations systems and plane routes.

The storm – the largest in five years – will unleash a torrent of charged particles between 06:00 GMT and 10:00 GMT, US weather specialists say. The effects will be most intense in polar regions, and aircraft may be advised to change their routings to avoid these areas.

“It’s hitting us right in the nose,” said Joseph Kunches, an expert at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa). He described the storm as the Sun’s version of Super Tuesday – in a reference to the US Republican primaries and caucuses in 10 states. “Space weather has gotten very interesting over the past 24 hours,” Mr Kunches added.

solar flare  image released by NASA

An image released by NASA on March 5, 2012 is a view of a X1 solar flare

The charged particles are expected to hit Earth at 4,000,000 mph (6,400,000 km/h), and Noaa predicts the storm will last until Friday morning.

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.

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 by the storm, 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 from the solar storm.

NASA’s Solar Flare video

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