Two gigantic solar flares heading towards Earth

Two gigantic solar flares heading towards Earth

Washington : DC : USA | Mar 08, 2012 at 3:52 AM PST
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ScienceCasts: Secret Lives of Solar Flares

Two huge solar flares are due to enter the Earth’s atmosphere early Thursday morning. They are expected to rattle the Earth’s magnetic field while displaying its lights in the Northern skies. The massive blast of plasma shot from the sun on Tuesday at a speed of 4 million miles per hour is the largest flare in the last five years, according to NASA.

"First-look data from Stereo-B are not sufficient to determine if the cloud is heading for Earth," astronomer Tony Phillips wrote on his space weather website, responsible for monitoring space weather events. "Our best guess is 'probably, yes, but not directly toward Earth.' A glancing blow to our planet's magnetosphere is possible on March 8th or 9th."

Joseph Kunches, scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said the flares had been categorized X-class storms, making them the strongest flares the sun could possibly unleash. Kunches says that while some level of disturbances in the geomagnetic field is expected once the storm hits the Earth, the solar activity has already led to an R3 radio blackout caused by the emission of X-Rays from the sun. “Power grid operators have all been alerted, as well as the regulatory agencies that all pay attention to this,” Kunches said.

While reflecting on the possibility that more flares might come over the weekend, Kunches said that GPS users along with certain types of equipments would be affected by the disturbances in the space weather, triggering communication and additional radiation emissions near the north and south poles. Referring to the polar flights, Kunches said that airlines might need to redirect their flights, while “some have already taken action to reroute to ensure their high-frequency communication.”

These two solar flares are expected to last for 24 hours or linger a little longer into the early hours of Friday.

While the news might be a little disturbing for some, the good part of the solar storm is the display of colorful auroras or Northern Lights during its peak hours Thursday evening. Had the timings been close to the beginning or ending of the month, the light would have provided a more spectacular view; however, a full moon might make them appear dimmer than usual and much harder to see, Kunches said.

The residents near the poles should still be prepared for a slight jolt, NASA warns.

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The sun erupts with one of the largest solar flares of this solar cycle in this multi-colored NASA handout photo
The sun erupts with one of the largest solar flares of this solar cycle in this multi-colored NASA handout photo
Wendy Zachary is based in Texas, Texas, United States of America, and is a Reporter on Allvoices.
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