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Powerful Solar Storm Hits Earth, Could Cause Problems

Tracy Bloom |
March 8, 2012 | 11:39 a.m. PST

Deputy Editor

You've heard of "snowpocalypse." Now get ready for "sunpocalypse." A massive sun storm is currently hitting Earth and it could cause some problems. Among them: disrupted electrical grids, airplane flights, radio communication and GPS.

But no need to panic - the solar event is not likely to be dangerous to people. In fact, according to The Washington Post, "Earth’s magnetic field will repel much of the radiation generated by the storms, so people on the ground should be safe."

The solar storm, which was spawned by a couple of solar flares, hit the planet early this morning at a mind-boggling speed of 4.5 million miles per hour! NOAA rated the storm at a G1 level, the lowest level on the geomagnetic storm intensity. The highest level on the scale is G5. However, the storm could increase in intensity to the G3 level, according to Fox News, which also reported that, "The bigger effects will hit the planet over the next 24 hours."

Still, the storm is not as powerful as was feared. "All told, it's not a terribly strong event," physicist Joe Kunches of the  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told reporters at a news conference Thursday. Kunches said that so far, the storm only cut some communication at Earth's poles.

Thurday's solar storm was the strongest in more than 5 years. The Christian Science Monitor reported that "the Sun is on the ascendant phase of its 11-year cycle of solar activity, with the peak expected next year," according to scientists.

"These relatively large (solar) events, which we've had maybe a couple of handfuls total in the course of a decade, we've now had two or three of them, more or less right on top of each other," said Harlan Spence, an astrophysicist at the University of New Hampshire, adding that "It's a clear harbinger that the Sun is waking up."

"We're trying to put this in context not only ... of what has the Sun done in the past, but what is the biggest thing the Sun is capable of and what should we be planning for in terms of extreme sorts of events in the future," Spence said.

There is, however, one very bright side to all this.

A spectacular side effect of the sun storm you should be aware of tonight: auroras. Said Kunches: "“It’s the treat that we get when the sun erupts."

According to Wired News, the solar storm could cause northern lights to be seen "far south of their usual range," including in the northeastern U.S., the upper Great Plains region, and Washington state.

Watch (some really cool) video of solar flares below:



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