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Solar Flare to Pound Purim

A massive solar flare will give the Earth a 'bit of a jolt' this Purim as we head towards next year's solar cycle apex.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 3/8/2012, 1:13 PM

Solar Flare (Archive)
Solar Flare (Archive)
Reuters

Purim is set to host the biggest solar storm to his Earth's magnetic sphere in five years on Thursday.

The aurora-enhancing event could disrupt utility grids, airline flights, satellite networks and GPS services.

Scientists say the storm, which started with a massive solar flare earlier in the week, is growing as it expands outward from the sun at 4 million mph.

"It could give us a bit of a jolt," NASA solar physicist Alex Young told the Associated Press.

"This is a big sun spot group, particularly nasty," Young's fellow NASA solar physicist David Hathaway said. "Things are really twisted up and mixed up. It keeps flaring."

Thursday's storm is part of the sun's normal 11-year cycle, which is supposed to reach its apex next year. Solar storms don't harm people, but they do disrupt technology.

During the last solar peak in 2002 experts learned GPS systems were vulnerable to solar disruption. Because technological development has raced forward since then, scientists may learn about new systems that are also affected.

The Sun erupted Tuesday evening, but the most noticeable effects should hit between 8 AM and 3 PM (GMT+2) on Thursday, according to forecasters at the space weather center. The effects could linger through Friday morning.

Experts say storms like Thursday's start with sun spots, which are followed by an initial solar flare of subatomic particles that resemble a filament coming out of the sun.

After that comes a coronal mass ejection, which looks like a growing bubble and takes a couple days to reach Earth.

In 1989, a strong solar storm knocked out the power grid in Quebec, causing 6 million people to lose power.