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Sun storms creating a stir on Earth

A solar flare erupts from the sun's upper left central region  
 
June 9, 2000
Web posted at: 9:33 p.m. EST (0133 GMT)

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It's storming on the sun, and the blasts of solar particles spewing from that star are disrupting radio transmissions on Earth.

The massive bursts of charged particles are part of the sun's peak in its 11-year solar activity cycle.

Although the particles have produced scattered radio blackouts, they are not expected to significantly disrupt telecommunications or electrical power.

 
 
  

Geomagnetic disturbances began Thursday when the first shock wave reached the Earth's magnetosphere. During that time, Aurora watchers might have seen particularly strong Northern Lights, while power grids and satellites may have experienced electrical problems, according to space weather forecasters.

The U.S. Space Environment Center in Boulder, Colorado, 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.

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

The federal center forecast a category G3 storm, 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.

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 within the last week, 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.




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