BIGGEST SOLAR STORM IN YEARS NEARS EARTH, MAY DISRUPT POWER
The biggest solar storm in five years is expected to bombard the Earth on Thursday, potentially upsetting airplane flights, GPS systems and electric power grids.
The first effects of the storm will come at about 7 a.m. ET, says Joe Kunches of the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo. Kunches says the storm should last about a day.
On the "G1 to G5" scale of geomagnetic storm intensity, with G5 being the worst, Kunches says this storm is expected to be a G3, considered to be a "strong" one.
The storm has the potential to trip electrical power grids, although Kunches said power companies around the world have been alerted for possible outages.
Solar storms can also disrupt GPS systems or make them less accurate. The storm can lead to communication problems and added radiation around the North and South poles, which will probably force airlines to reroute flights.
NASA reports that the current increase in the number of solar storms is part of the sun's normal 11-year solar cycle, during which activity on the sun ramps up to the solar maximum, which should peak in late 2013.
"We're in the season for these now," says Kunches, who adds that similar solar storms will occur every month or two for the next few years.
Skywatchers in the North will get a treat from the aurora borealis, or northern lights, which are caused by the solar storm and should be near peak tonight.
The lights will occur across much of the northern tier of the USA, as far south as Oregon in the West, Illinois in the Midwest, and the Mid-Atlantic states in the East, Kunches says.
Contributing: The Associated Press