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)
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
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.
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The Earth's natural electromagnetic field shields the planet
from the most harmful effects, but some adverse consequences
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
- High-frequency radio signals may be interrupted.
Low-frequency radio navigation and satellite navigation problems
- The aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, could be visible
beyond its normal range, possibly in the northern continental
A solar flare erupts from the upper left
central region of the sun, right before a powerful coronal
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
Weeklong geomagnetic storm alert issued
June 7, 2000
Solar observatory films planet parade
May 8, 2000
Solar and Heliospheric Observatory
NOAA Space Environment Center
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