Tags: solar | flare | speeding | toward | earth

Solar Flare Speeding Toward Earth, Could Disrupt Satellite Systems

Image: Solar Flare Speeding Toward Earth, Could Disrupt Satellite Systems

Wednesday, 21 Aug 2013 04:20 PM

By Clyde Hughes

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A massive solar flare is speeding toward Earth at 570 miles per second, and NASA said it could affect satellites and electronic systems on the ground, though it won't affect humans.

The solar flare, called a coronal mass ejection, or CME, occurred at 4:24 a.m. EST Tuesday and sent a huge cloud of solar particles toward Earth. The particles ejected typically take two or three days to reach the Earth, at which point they can trigger geomagnetic storms that can disrupt radio communications, GPS signals, and power grids.

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However, Tuesday's blast doesn't appear to have too much disruptive potential.

"In the past, geomagnetic storms caused by CMEs of this strength have usually been mild," NASA officials said, according to Space.com.

In 1989, a solar storm was blamed for causing a massive power outage in Quebec, the International Science Times reported.

NASA researchers said, though, the particles in this case are not strong enough to break through Earth's atmosphere and harm humans.

"Experimental NASA research models, based on observations from NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, show that the CME left the sun at speeds of around 570 miles per second, which is a fairly typical speed for CMEs," NASA officials wrote on Tuesday.

The sun is reaching the peak activity phase of its current 11-year cycle, known as Solar Cycle 24. Solar Cycle 24's maximum is shaping up to be the weakest of the last 100 years or so, according to space scientists say.

A 2012 solar flare, the largest in six years, caused problems with some GPS systems, airline communications systems, and satellites for several days.

Doug Biesecker, of the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center, told CompterWorld.com at the time that several airlines, including Delta and United, had to divert flights that planned to fly over the North and South Poles, as well as some with high-altitude routes.

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Related stories:

Sun Unleashes Strongest Solar Flare of 2013 So Far

Sunspot Growing Fast: Solar Storms Possible, NASA Reporting

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