‘White Knuckle Time’ for Radiation Hurtling From the Sun

By ABC News

Jan 9, 2014 1:48pm
AP solar flare jtm 140109 16x9 608 White Knuckle Time for Radiation Hurtling From the Sun

                                          (Photo Credit: NASA/AP Photo)

ABC News’ Gina Sunseri reports:

Hold on, our communications devices and airline flights aren’t quite safe yet.

Just as we Earthlings were trying to adjust to the polar vortex, now comes a CME – that’s a Coronal Mass Ejection – from the Sun. It was supposed to reach Earth about 4 a.m. this morning, but Joe Kunches at NOAA’s Space Weather Office in Boulder says it’s still on its way.

“We’re seeing the forerunners in advance of the CME but as yet, waiting for the CME to start the magnetic storm,” said Kunches. “White knuckle time for the forecasters.”

Massive radiation is now hurtling toward us from the Sun’s Coronal Mass Ejection. According to the science website “How Stuff Works,” CME’s occur when “the fluctuations of the sun’s magnetic fields cause a large portion of the surface of the sun to expand rapidly, ejecting billions of tons of particles out into space [and producing] a magnetic shockwave that extends billions of miles out into space. If Earth is in the path of that shockwave, our planet’s magnetic field will react to the event.”

If there were a spacewalk planned for this week, it would undoubtedly be cancelled. The astronauts on the space station are shielded from most radiation, so they’ll be fine. Here on Earth, the CME may affect communications. Or your plane may be rerouted. But not to worry: You, dear Earthling, should be safe.

“The radiation blast has prompted some airlines to change aircraft routes,” says Kunches. “They are changing their flight plan to ensure continuous communications, i.e., not flying polar but rather more southerly routes.”

When the CME hits, the Earth’s magnetic field will be disturbed: high-frequency radio, GPS applications, airline routes, possible power grid transients may be affected during the geomagnetic storm.

NASA postponed the Wednesday launch from Virginia’s eastern shore of the Cygnus cargo spacecraft, scheduled to deliver supplies to the International Space Station, because of the radiation.

The good news? CME’s usually produce stunning auroras. So that’s something to watch for in the northern United States.

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