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Earth braces for shock waves from sun

Coronal mass ejection recorded by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory on June 6 (Click "reload" on browser to replay animation)  

June 8, 2000
Web posted at: 11:33 a.m. EDT (1533 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Reaching the peak of an 11-year cycle of solar activity, the sun has ejected massive bursts of charged particles toward the Earth, which could kick off brilliant atmospheric light displays and electrical disruptions on Thursday.

The blast of charged solar particles already is producing scattered radio blackouts but is not expected to significantly disrupt telecommunications or electrical power.

Geomagnetic disturbances should begin after sunset when the first shock wave reaches the Earth's magnetosphere. Aurora watchers could see particularly strong Northern Lights, while power grids and satellites could experience electrical problems, according to space weather forecasters.

The U.S. Space Environment Center in Boulder has issued an outlook for strong geomagnetic storms. They occur when bubbles of charged gas erupt off the sun, washing out over the planets in the solar system.

  MESSAGE BOARD
 

The Earth's natural electromagnetic field shields the planet from the most harmful effects, but some adverse consequences may occur.

The federal center predicted a category G3 storm for Thursday and Friday, on a scale of G1 (minor) to G5 (extreme). A G3 disturbance may cause the following effects:

  • Power system grids may require voltage corrections and false alarms may be triggered on grid protection devices.


  • Spacecraft may experience surface "charging" -- meaning an electrical charge could affect electronic systems onboard. Spacecraft could experience orientation problems that could require correction.


  • High-frequency radio signals may be interrupted. Low-frequency radio navigation and satellite navigation problems may occur.


  • The aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, could be visible beyond its normal range, possibly in the northern continental United States.
solar flare
A solar flare erupts from the upper left central region of the sun, right before a powerful coronal mass ejection  

The sun is approaching the height of its 11-year storm cycle. Unlike previous cycles, this period has been relatively quiet, with eruptions every two months or so.

But this storm is estimated to be 20 times stronger than a solar flare in early April.

Powerful solar eruptions emanated from the sun on Tuesday and Wednesday, as several X-class solar flares ejected an estimated billion tons or more of charged particles into space, heading in the direction of Earth.

In 1989, a severe solar storm knocked out power stations serving Canada and the northeastern states, as well as an electrical transformer in New Jersey. Since then, power grid and satellite operators have taken steps to protect their systems.




RELATED STORIES:
Weeklong geomagnetic storm alert issued
June 7, 2000
Solar observatory films planet parade
May 8, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Space Weather
Solar and Heliospheric Observatory
NOAA Space Environment Center

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