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Strong solar blast strikes Earth

This solar salvo was spotted by the SOHO satellite.
This solar salvo was spotted by the SOHO satellite.  

By Kate Tobin
CNN Sci-Tech Unit

(CNN) -- A powerful solar flare released a salvo of charged gases that buffeted the Earth's magnetic field on Tuesday, solar scientists said.

The high-energy solar winds produced by such Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) can generate geomagnetic storms when they hit Earth, temporarily altering the planet's magnetic field and creating colorful sky displays known as auroras or the Northern and Southern Lights.

Instruments onboard the Solar and Heliographic Observatory (SOHO), a joint NASA-European Space Agency satellite, captured images of the weekend solar flare that sparked the CME.

Experts say a CME of this size and strength sometimes trigger geomagnetic storms and strong displays of the aurora lights in extreme lattitudes.

But it was not headed directly toward Earth and delivered only a glancing blow that was not strong enough to interrupt satellite communications or disrupt power grids on Earth.

Researchers classify solar flares using three categories: C is weak, M is moderate and X is strong. The weekend salvo is classified as an X-1 flare. The strongest one in recent memory was April 2, 2001. Experts believe it was at least an X-20.




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