Vast Solar Storm Flings Plasma Toward Earth

Some flights grounded as a precaution
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 24, 2012 7:43 AM CST
Vast Solar Storm Flings Plasma Toward Earth
This colorized NASA image, taken Monday, Jan. 23, 2012, from the Solar Dynamics Observatory, shows a flare shooting out of the top of the sun.   (AP Photo/NASA)

A stream of charged plasma is headed toward Earth today, thanks to the biggest solar storm since 2005. The storm poses a small, manageable threat to satellites, power grids, and other high-tech hardware, and could cause some spectacular displays of light and color, the LA Times reports. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration first detected the flare late Sunday, followed by a coronal mass ejection, which hurled billions of plasma particles toward Earth at uncommonly fast speeds.

The first radiation from the flare hit Earth within hours, but the plasma is expected to arrive at about 9am today, potentially knocking out some GPS systems and power grids. Some flights were rerouted around polar regions yesterday as a precaution. Though such flares can expose astronauts to deadly radiation, NASA has indicated that this one won't, according to the Huffington Post. Of course, the fun part is that this might produce spectacular light displays tonight. A similar, weaker flare in the same part of the sun on Thursday produced such auroras this weekend, and you can see amazing photos of them here. (More solar storm stories.)

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