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Solar Flare 2012A monstrous solar flare that erupted from the sun late Tuesday night, March 6, is ushering in one of the most intense solar storms in over five years.  The solar storm could possibly interfere with satellites in orbit as well as power grids when it finally reaches Earth.

“Space weather has gotten very interesting over the last 24 hours,” said Joseph Kunches, a space weather scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “This was quite the Super Tuesday – you bet.”

NASA spacecraft captured video of the solar flare as it forced a wave of solar plasma and charged particles, called a coronal mass ejection (CME), into space. The CME won’t hit Earth directly, but the cloud of supercharged particles could graze the planet.

Forecasters predict that the CME will reach Earth tomorrow, March 8, at about 7 a.m. EST (1200 GMT), with the effects lasting for about 24 hours, and possibly lasting into Friday.

The solar eruptions occurred late last night as the sun let loose two huge X-class solar flares that ranked among the strongest type of sun storms. The largest one registered as an X5.4-class solar storm, the strongest solar eruption so far this year.

Typically, solar flares contain 10 billion tons of solar plasma.  The CME triggered by last night’s X5.4-class flare is the one that could disrupt satellite operations, Kunches said.

“When the shock arrives, the expectation is for heightened geomagnetic storm activity and the potential for heightened solar radiation,” Kunches said.

That’s what could affect satellites and power grids. Some high-precision GPS users could also feel the affects.

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“There is the potential for induced currents in power grids,” Kunches said. “Power grid operators have all been alerted. It could start to cause some unwanted induced currents.”

Airplanes that fly over the polar caps may also experience communications issues during this time.  Some commercial airliners have already taken precautionary measures.

Powerful solar storms can present a danger to astronauts in space, and NOAA is working close with NASA’s Johnson Space Center to determine if the six residents of the International Space Station need to take shelter.

Watch for some brighter aurora displays over the next day or two as well.

“Auroras are probably the treat that we get when the sun erupts,” Kunches said.

Over the next few days, Kunches says brightened auroras could potentially be seen as far south as the southern Great Lakes region.

Yesterday’s solar flare emanated from the massive sunspot AR1429, which sent forth an earlier X1.1-class flare on Sunday, March 4. The CME from that outburst missed Earth, passing us last night at around 11 p.m. EST (0400 GMT March 7), according to the Space Weather Prediction Center, which is jointly managed by NOAA and the National Weather Service.

More in the video below.

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