Huge solar flare sparks concern over power grids and satellites
Published 09/06/2011 | 05:00
An unusual solar flare observed by a NASA space observatory this week could cause some disruptions to satellite communications and power on Earth over the next day or so, officials said.
The potent blast from the Sun unleashed a firestorm of radiation on a level not witnessed since 2006, and will likely lead to moderate geomagnetic storm activity, according to the US National Weather Service.
"This one was rather dramatic," said Bill Murtagh, programme coordinator at the Space Weather Prediction Centre, describing the M-2 (medium-sized) solar flare that peaked at 5:41am GMT yesterday.
"You can see all the materials blasting up from the Sun so it is quite fantastic to look at."
NASA's solar dynamics observatory, which launched last year and provided the high-definition pictures and video of the event, described it as "visually spectacular", but noted that since the eruption was not pointed directly at Earth, the effects were expected to remain "fairly small".
Mr Murtagh said space weather analysts were watching closely to see whether the event would cause any collision of magnetic fields between the Sun and Earth.
"In a day or so from now we are expecting some of that material to impact us here on Earth and create a geomagnetic storm," he said.
That could cause some disruption in power grids, satellites that operate global positioning systems and other devices, and may lead to some re-routing of flights over the polar regions, Mr Murtagh said. "Generally it is not going to cause any big problems."