Solar storm delivers "glancing blow" to Earth

WASHINGTON Tue Sep 27, 2011 4:50pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A solar storm born of a monster sunspot delivered a "glancing blow" to Earth, with little impact on electrical systems, U.S. space weather experts said on Tuesday.

"The current storm is probably at its end," said Joe Kunches, a scientist at NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado. "It seems that the solar wind that was really energized ... seems to have passed us by."

At its height, the storm was rated as strong-to-severe by NASA's Goddard Space Weather Lab outside Washington D.C.

The storm of charged particles from the Sun -- the solar wind -- was generated after the huge sunspot 1302 threw off a coronal mass ejection of solar material -- a flare -- early Saturday, the NASA lab said in a statement.

Sunspot 1302 was large enough to be seen without a telescope from Earth, though that would be unadvisable because it could hurt human eyes. It is about 99,000 miles across, big enough to fit more than 10 Earths lined up side by side.

The solar storm generated by the coronal mass ejection was G3 on a scale that ranges from G1 to G5, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a statement.

The flare itself was an X1.9 category blast, near the top of the scale scientists use to define the power of a solar event, but that is not uncommon during this phase of the sun's 11-year solar cycle, according to Alex Young, a scientist at Goddard.

"I wouldn't say that it's rare at this particular time in the cycle," Young said by telephone. "We're about two years away from the peak of the 11-year solar cycle."

Solar activity should peak sometime in mid-2013, he said.

Solar storms can interfere with satellites, power grids and navigation systems such as GPS, but there was little evidence that this storm had much damaging impact. People in extreme northern latitudes may see heightened auroras.

That may be because of the location of the sunspot that started it: sunspot 1302 was located near the edge of the disc of the Sun that we see from Earth, and therefore delivered what NOAA called a "glancing blow" to the magnetic field that surrounds our planet.

If the storm had been directed straight at Earth, NOAA said, "the geomagnetic storming could have reached 'severe' to 'extreme' levels."

As the Sun rotated and Earth moved around it over the last three days, the sunspot came in range to deliver a direct hit, but that is not forecast, Kunches said.

"Since the eruptions over the weekend, it seems that the parent of the activity (sunspot 1302) ... has relaxed a little bit," he said.

Of sunspots, he said, "They grow, they twist, they erupt and they go back to a more happy state and they're kind of in that happy state right now."

(Editing by Todd Eastham)

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Comments (3)
Queyras wrote:
The northern lights were seen last night as far south as Michigan, New York, South Dakota and Maine in the United States, and also from Europe and New Zealand. It was the strongest geomagnetic storm since October 2003.
A HD video of what the northern lights look like during a strong geomagnetic storm as we had yesterday can be seen at

Sep 27, 2011 5:54pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Ralphooo wrote:
“Solar storms can interfere with satellites, power grids and navigation systems such as GPS…”

Even as recently as 11 years ago, our civilization was less critically dependent on the kind of technology that supposedly might be damaged by a bad solar storm. Oh the humanity! (snooze….)

Sep 27, 2011 6:05pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
stambo2001 wrote:
Missed us by >< that much. Can you imagine what would happen if the north american power-grid was knocked out? By the second day there would be massive rioting and looting. All hell would break lose as 300 million people scrambled to find food and clean drinking water. If the power was out for more than a week only the most prepared would have a chance of surviving their fellow neighbours.

These storms are not even supposed to ‘peak’ for another two years yet. That’s a nice way of saying the dice will be rolling every day for the next two years. The government wants you to have a months supply of food and water put away for a reason. Do it, and have a plan to get out of any city you are in if the lights go out for good.

Sep 28, 2011 8:26am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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