Earth to be hit by biggest solar storm for seven years this week

by Search Gate staff. Published Mon 23 Jan 2015 22:53, Last updated: 2015-01-23
Earth to be struck by huge radiation storm

A radiation surge from a massive solar storm is heading towards Earth at 4 million miles per hour as American scientists warn of the potential risk of disruption.

The huge solar flare erupted from the surface of the sun on Sunday evening and is currently tracked to hit the Earth from around 9am (EST) on Tuesday.

The possible effects of the radiation blast are likely to last through until Wednesday, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center in Colorado.

The agency has classified the solar burst as a G3 on its warning scale - there are two higher levels of radiation alerts - severe and extreme – and warned the proton storm is the strongest since May 2005.

The radiation is mostly a concern for satellite operators but can also cause communication disruption for aircraft travelling in the polar regions. The freak storm is also pulling the Northern Lights far further south than usual.

A solar eruption is followed by a three-stage Earth strike, according to NOAA observers. First comes electromagnetic radiation, followed by radiation in the form of protons and then finally the coronal mass ejection, which is the plasma from the sun itself.

Usually that travels at about 1 or 2 million miles per hour, but this storm is particularly violent and is travelling towards Earth at around 4 million miles per hour.

It's the plasma that causes many of the noticeable problems on Earth, such as electrical grid outages. In 1989, a solar storm caused a massive blackout in Quebec.

However, the worst of the solar storm is likely to go north of Earth.

For the past several years the sun has been extremely quiet. Part of that is the normal calm part of the sun's 11-year cycle of activity. Last year, scientists started to speculate that the sun was going into an unusually quiet cycle that seems to happen maybe once a century or so.

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