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Solar Storm 2012The Earth is literally taking a pounding.  A massive blast of plasma energy spewed from the sun on Sunday night and led to the strongest radiation storm since 2005.

Delta Air Lines has been forced to redirect certain high-flying airplanes as a precaution.

NOAA‘s Space Weather Prediction Center issued a geomagnetic storm watch after a satellite spotted an ultraviolet flash from the massive solar eruption.

There is no risk to humans, says Doug Biesecker of the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center.

Still, some polar Delta flights were re-routed to avoid exposing pilots and passengers to potentially high levels of radiation.

“We know that some airlines did not fly the polar routes yesterday,” Biesecker said. Delta was one of them, redirecting its flights between Hong Kong and the U.S. that usually fly over the pole.

“We are adjusting the flight pattern of a few of our flights,” said Delta spokesman Anthony Black. “We’re flying further south than we would normally fly.”

The changes affect about six flights today, he said.  Delta will re-evaluate tomorrow morning to determine whether or not any additional changes will be needed.

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Eruptions on the surface of the sun launch huge streams of charged particles away from the star,  in this case directly at Earth.

“A [coronal mass ejection (CME)] hit Earth’s magnetic field on Jan. 24th at approximately 1500 UT (10 am EST). Geomagnetic storms are likely in the hours ahead. If it’s dark where you live, go outside and look for auroras,” Spaceweather.com wrote.

NASA and NOAA frequently monitor such CMEs, as they could lead to problems for astronauts and communications satellites.  They may also affect navigation and the power grid.

The solar flare that occurred late Sunday night was rated an M9-class eruption, almost an X-class flare, the most powerful type of solar flare.

The massive flare led to the largest radiation storm the planet has seen 2005, one still only described as a G3.

NOAA measures geomagnetic storms on a five-point scale from 1 to 5. G1 storms are minor while G5 storms can be extreme, leading to widespread electrical issues, damage to transformers, radio outages, and even satellite problems.

NOAA warned of geomagnetic storms today as well. They could be as strong as G3, leading to intermittent navigation issues and problems with low-flying satellites.

The sun’s activity increases and decreases on an 11-year cycle. Right now, activity during Solar Cycle 24 is expected to increase toward “solar maximum” in 2013.

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