Geomagnetic storm hits Earth

A most powerful geomagnetic storm walloped the Earth on Wednesday, knocking out airline communications.

    The storm was released by a powerful solar flare

    The storm, the most disruptive to hit Earth since 1989, was unleashed by

    the fourth-most powerful solar flare yet to be seen, NASA said. 

    However, it caused no large power outages or other major problems.

    The gigantic cloud of highly charged particles hurled from the sun, posed a

    threat to electric utilities, high frequency radio communications, satellite

    navigation systems and television broadcasts.

    Continued turbulence on the sun

    remains a concern for the next week, space forecasters say.

    Blackouts

    The biggest immediate effect was the blackout of high-frequency

    voice-radio communications for planes, flying far northern routes.

    But airliners in an emergency could still communicate through VHF contact

    with another aircraft or military monitoring station

    .

    British controllers were keeping trans-Atlantic jets on more southerly

    routes than usual to avoid the problem.

    The particle storm, measuring 13 times larger than Earth, was rated a G5,

    the highest intensity on scientists' scale of space weather.

    "It is extremely rare to get this level of geomagnetic storming...

    This is one of the

    strongest storms that we have received during this cycle"

    Larry Combs,
    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

    Space observers

    have measured G5 storms five times in the past 15 years, but few of them have

    hit Earth so directly.


    Magnetic field collision

    The storm whipped through the solar system at about 8 million

    kph, taking just 19 hours to travel the 150 million

    km from the sun to envelop the planet.

    Federal scientists said it

    collided with Earth's magnetic field at 0613 GMT on Wednesday, about 12 hours

    earlier than predicted.

    Such storms pose no direct threat to people on the ground, because the

    Earth's thick atmosphere deflects and absorbs incoming charged particles.

    But

    the storm may produce colourful auroras in the northern night sky visible as

    far south as El Paso, Texas, beginning late on Wednesday.

    The last time a G5 storm hit Earth was in 1989, which damaged the power

    grid and caused electrical blackouts in the Canadian province of Quebec.

    Strongest storm

    "It is extremely rare to get this level of geomagnetic storming," said

    Larry Combs, forecaster for the Space Weather Center at the National Oceanic

    and Atmospheric Administration in Colorado.

    "This is one of the

    strongest storms that we have received during this cycle."

    There were few immediate reports of damage related to the geomagnetic

    storm. However, Combs said, "We know that our power grids are definitely

    feeling the effects of this."

    That is because disruptions in the magnetic field caused by the incoming

    particles can induce power surges and other current fluctuations in

    electrical systems.

    Geomagnetic storms have caused power disturbances

    in the United States and Canada, at least 11 times since 1940.

    International space station

    The increased solar activity is also affecting the International Space S

    tation.

    The Expedition 8 crew, Commander Mike Foale and Russian cosmonaut

    Alexander Kaleri, briefly retreated to the aft end of the station's service

    module, which is shielded from higher levels of radiation.

    Increased radiation levels
    affected crew at the ISS

    The pair will spend about 20 minutes there, twice on each orbit of the

    Earth for about three orbits, until the station phases out of the high

    radiation areas.

    In Tokyo, Japanese space agency officials, already forced to temporarily

    shut down one satellite, said on Thursday they had lost contact with a second

    satellite that might have been effected by the solar flare.

    "We have completely lost touch with the Midori 2, and don't know what's

    going on with it," said Junichi Moriuma, a spokesman for the agency, known

    as JAXA. He said the agency was trying to restore communications.

    Electrical damage

    "At this point, we don't know if there is a relation between this

    accident and the solar flare," he said. "We are still in the process of

    figuring out what caused the problems."

    Space scientists in the United States and Europe, as well as commercial

    satellite operators, shut down some delicate instruments and turned them away

    from the storm's blast. Solar panels are particularly vulnerable.

    Researchers said Earth was protected from the storm's full impact because

    the magnetic field of the storm cloud was pointed north in the same direction

    as Earth's magnetic field.

    But if the cloud's magnetic field shifted southward - something that still

    could happen - its opposing force would, in effect, open a

    "hole" in the planet's magnetic shield.

    That could result in later

    disruptions to electrical systems, they said.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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