solar storms headed to Earth raise disruption concerns
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[September 12, 2014]
By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL Fla. (Reuters) - A rare
double burst of magnetically charged solar storms will hit Earth
Thursday night and Friday, raising concerns that GPS signals, radio
communications and power transmissions could be disrupted, officials
said on Thursday.
Individually, the storms, known as coronal mass ejections, or
CMEs, wouldn’t warrant special warnings, but their unusual close
timing and direct path toward Earth spurred the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center to
issue an alert.
The first CME, which burst from a magnetically disturbed region of
the sun on Monday night, should reach Earth Thursday night, center
director Thomas Berger told reporters on a conference call.
The same patch of solar real estate produced a second, more powerful
storm about 1:45 p.m. EDT on Wednesday.“We don’t expect any
unmanageable impacts to national infrastructure from these solar
events at this time, but we are watching these events closely,”
The sun currently is in the peak of its 11-year cycle, though the
overall level of activity is far lower than a typical solar max.
Storms as powerful as the ones now making their way toward Earth
typically occur 100 to 200 times during a solar cycle, Berger said.
“The unique thing about this event is that we’ve had two in close
succession and the CMEs could possibly be interacting on their way
to Earth, at the Earth’s orbit or beyond. We just don’t know that
yet,” he said.
The highly energetic, magnetically charged solar particles could hit
Earth’s magnetic field and disrupt some radio communications and
degrade GPS signals, NOAA said.
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The storms also have the potential to impact electric field power
grids in the northern latitudes, which are more susceptible to
Power grid operators and the Federal Emergency Management Agency
(FEMA) have been notified “just in case,” Berger added.
On the plus side, the storms should trigger beautiful auroral
displays, visible wherever clear skies prevail along the northern
tier of the United States. Aurora are caused by electrically charged
solar particles hitting oxygen, nitrogen and other gases high in the
atmosphere, creating curtains of light above the planet’s magnetic
north and south poles.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)
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