Solar Storm: Strongest Geomagnetic Storm in Six Years to Hit Earth

Jan 24, 2012 6:00am
gty sun solar flare thg 111228 wblog Solar Storm: Strongest Geomagnetic Storm in Six Years to Hit Earth
                                            (Credit: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory/Getty Images)

 

Earth will experience its strongest geomagnetic storm in six years today, but the  radiation is expected to cause only minor problems with satellites, the power grid and navigation devices.

“Operators are surely seeing a greater number of errors on their system that are causing them to work a bit harder, but we’re not expecting satellites to stop,” Douglas Biesecker, a physicist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told ABCNews.com.

The storm is forecasted to be a G-2 or G-3 on NOAA’s ascending five-point scale.

Biesecker said people should not worry about harmful radiation.

“The magnetic field around Earth is protecting us. That’s one of the great things about being on Earth,” he said.

The average person won’t be affected by the radiation unless they’re taking a flight with a polar route.

“Airlines will divert those flights because high frequency communications will be impacted,” he said.

The storm was set off by a chain of events Sunday evening. A moderate solar flare erupted on the sun, which occurs tens of thousands of times every solar cycle, Biesecker said. The solar flare was associated with a coronal mass ejection, which is also a frequent occurrence. However, this particular one was big and sent a cloud of plasma with a magnetic field hurdling toward Earth at 4 million mph.

Earth experienced some of the radiation within an hour of Sunday’s solar flare.

“The ones that escape propogate to Earth at the speed of light,” Biesecker explained.

The geomagnetic storm is expected to last for one day.

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