Earth Hit By Biggest Space Storm In Almost Seven Years

From the Telegraph:

Large swathes of the planet were hit by the geomagnetic storm amid fears the biggest storm since 2005 could disrupt important communications.

Astronomers warned the storm could affect airline routes, power grids and satellites with the worst of the storm likely to go north of Earth.

But the storm has created a positive side effect with some countries in Asia and Europe, including Britain, being witness to spectacular displays of the Northern Lights at night.

Scientists say the coronal mass ejection, a violent release of plasma and magnetic fields from the sun, has been hurtling toward Earth at 5 million miles an hour (2,000km per second).

The large piece of the Sun's atmosphere was travelling five times faster than solar particles normally travel, they added.

The storm’s strength is considered strong with two higher levels of radiation on space monitoring scales – severe and extreme – that are used by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

“When it hits us, it's like a big battering ram that pushes into Earth's magnetic field," said Dr Terry Onsager, from the NOAA’s American Space Weather Prediction Centre, in Boulder, Colorado.

"That energy causes Earth's magnetic field to fluctuate.”

Dr Onsager said energy can interfere with high frequency radio communications used by airlines to navigate close to the North Pole in flights between North America, Europe and Asia, so some routes may need to be shifted.

It could also affect power grids and satellite operations.

Dr Doug Biesecker, a physicist from the centre, said the earth had not experience a storm “this strong” since May 2005.

“That’s really the reason this event is remarkable — it’s just been so long since we’ve seen this,” he added.

"We don't expect major impacts from an event like this.

"It's the people who need GPS (global positioning system) accuracy of centimetres who have to worry, not people who want to know if you're going to turn the car 30 metres (100 feet) ahead."

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station may be advised to shield themselves in specific parts of the spacecraft to avoid a heightened dose of solar radiation.

Nasa said its surgeons and solar experts examined the solar flare's expected effects and decided that the six astronauts on the ISS did not have to overly worry.

The space weather centre said the geomagnetic storm's intensity was at three on the five-level scale, five being the most extreme.

The S3 ranking means "it could ... cause isolated reboots of computers on-board Earth-orbiting satellites and interfere with polar radio communications."

For the past several years the sun had been quiet but The Daily Telegraph disclosed that Nasa has warned countries face widespread power blackouts from the once-in-a-generation “space storm” next year.