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Solar storm strikes Earth following monster flare (VIDEO)

Published time: January 10, 2014 18:14
Edited time: January 11, 2014 09:36

This NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory image shows a giant sunspot group on the sun, from where an X-class flare erupted on January 7, 2013. Image courtesy: NASA/SDO. Video courtesy: SOHO (ESA/NASA)

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A large coronal mass ejection has reached Earth – days after the Sun sent a massive burst of solar wind and electromagnetic radiation towards our planet. While causing no major geomagnetic storm, it has produced spectacular auroras in northern Europe.

The coronal mass ejection (CME) arrived near Earth at 2:32pm EST (7:32pm GMT) on Thursday, with its effects expected to continue throughout Friday, according to US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center has issued a warning of a geomagnetic storm with “minor disruptions to communications and GPS.”

While the world’s economies braced for possible blackouts in high-frequency airline and military communications, disruptions to GPS signals and power grids, enthusiasts in the northern hemisphere rushed outdoors in the hope of viewing the stunning aurora borealis as far south as Colorado.

However, American aurora spotters have been disappointed, as, according to spaceweather.com, the CME’s impact was “weaker than expected” and failed to produce widespread storms. Some frustrated Twitter users also blamed cloudy skies for not being able to see the northern lights.

Observers were luckier around the Arctic Circle in Norway, where a dark and clear night at the time of impact, as well as more favorable latitude, put an aurora on display.

NOAA forecasters still estimated an 85 percent chance of polar geomagnetic storms before the end of Friday, and media cheered the sky watchers by saying there remains a chance of some clear aurora sightings Friday night.

The CME that stroke the Earth has been associated with the large X1.2-class solar flare that was unleashed from a giant sunspot AR1944 on January 7. The flare has been described as the most powerful this year so far, with X-class denoting the most severe intensity.

The solar phenomenon, which can send billions of tons of particles from the Sun’s atmosphere into space, is luckily not directly harmful for humans, as the Earth’s atmosphere prevents the particles from coming through. However, solar storms can affect electronic systems in satellites and on the ground, causing varying levels of disruption, and can potentially pose some danger to the astronauts orbiting the planet on board the International Space Station (ISS).

While NASA downplayed the possible impact of the current CME, saying it did not represent a threat to the ISS, the space weather concerns sparked a day-long delay of the Orbital Sciences Corp. Antares rocket launch. The rocket successfully blasted in to space on Thursday, carrying the commercial cargo ship Cygnus with supplies for the ISS crew.

Scientists are expecting more solar flares to erupt, as the Sun is currently in an active phase of its 11-year solar weather cycle. The current one, known as Solar Cycle 24, started in 2008.

This January 7, 2014 handout image captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory shows a false-color composite image from a blast of activity originating from an active sunspot region at the center of the sun's disk (AFP Photo)

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