The effects could begin to be felt as early as Tuesday night, space weather forecasters say. They're expected to continue Wednesday and throughout the week.
The up side is that the event could cause the spectacular, normally Arctic display known as the northern lights, or aurora borealis, to be visible in the midsection of the United States. Given clear nights, communities at the latitude of Detroit and upstate New York will see the display. It could even dip as low as Philadelphia, Denver and Reno, Nev.
The magnetic storm, spewing from sunspots, "seems to be coming straight toward Earth," said forecaster Larry Combs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Environment Center in Boulder, Colo. "Definitely we're going to get hit."
The magnetic storm was moving so fast – 1,200 miles per second – that although it was first spotted Tuesday morning, it was expected to hit Earth as early as 8 p.m. EDT Tuesday.
The supercharged particles can overload power grids and disrupt satellites' electrical and navigation systems. The flare caused at least one high-frequency radio blackout early Tuesday, Combs said.
Power companies reduce power slightly to absorb the surge that solar storms can cause. Satellites that might be affected are put into hibernation. It's also a good week to hit your computer's save button frequently.
While this storm is weaker than the one that passed last week, it could cause more disruption, experts said.
"The other one, [Earth] got just brushed by, but this one is kind of just down the track" aimed at this planet, said Joe Gurman, a NASA scientist for the SOHO sun monitoring satellite.
Combs forecasts bursts of strong storm activity through Monday.
Such storms are caused because parts of the sun, which is not solid, rotate at different speeds, Combs explained. That twists its magnetic field.
"It's like taking rubber bands and twisting them till they break," Combs said.
(c) 2001, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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