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Solar storm hits Earth in repeat of October

Recent extreme ultraviolet view of the sun by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory
Recent extreme ultraviolet view of the sun by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory

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HELSINKI, Finland (Reuters) -- Magnetic solar hurricanes like those that wreaked havoc last month have hit Earth again, confusing satellites and causing aurora borealis displays as far south as Florida, Finnish meteorologists said on Friday.

"The storm has already begun, and last night it grew incredibly strong," said Heikki Nevanlinna, research manager at the Finnish Meteorological Institute told Reuters.

"There have been solar flares from the sun, and my estimate is that this weekend will see a lot of atmospheric disturbance."

Magnetic solar storms, caused by a burst of charged particles from the sun hitting the Earth's magnetic field, caused technical glitches around the world at the end of October in some of the most intense storms ever detected.

The current storm stems from the same giant sunspots that caused last month's solar flares, but is clearly weaker than the October storm, Nevanlinna said.

Nevertheless, Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) receivers have already experienced disturbances, as have mobile phone networks, Nevanlinna said.

"(GPS receivers) may give bad coordinates or it may take them an extremely long time to get data. This demonstrates that the intermediary substance in which the signals are travelling is in a very disturbed state," he said.

Solar storms can interfere with satellite paths, causing them to fly off course. They can also damage electricity grids, and last month a blackout that affected 50,000 people in Sweden was suspected to have been caused by these storms.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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