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Friday, September 12, 2014

'Extreme' Sun Storm Heading for Earth, Scientists Say

Published: Sep 10, 2014, 8:13 PM EDT
An extreme solar flare is heading toward Earth – one the size of which scientists say they haven't seen coming from the middle of the sun in years. The solar storm could interfere with power grids, satellites and radio transmissions, and even though these events are common and don't directly harm humans, this particular flare is disconcerting because of its strength and location on the sun, said Tom Berger, director of the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado.
"There's been a giant magnetic explosion on the sun," Berger said. "Because it's pointed right at us, we'll at least catch some of the cloud" of highly energized and magnetized plasma that can disrupt Earth's magnetic sphere, which sometimes leads to temporary power grid problems.
Forecasters don't yet know when Wednesday's solar storm will arrive here and which part of the planet will be facing the sun and bear the brunt of the effects. It could arrive as early as Thursday morning or may take a few days.
Berger said scientists will have a better idea after they get more satellite data. The first part of the storm, which arrives in only a few minutes, has already affected radio transmissions. It can also damage satellites.
The flare is considered "extreme" on forecasters' scale, but just barely so, Berger said.
On the plus side, sun flares expand the colorful northern lights so people farther south can see them.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
MORE ON WEATHER.COM: Images of the Sun from NASA

This close-up look at an active region taken on July 9, 2010, shows a hotbed of magnetic activity, including a small solar flare bursting out into space. (NASA Solar Dynamics Laboratory)

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