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Two Solar Flares Threaten to Impact Earth

On March 6th, around 7PM EST, the Solar Dynamics Observatory captured video footage showing the eruption of one of the largest solar flares in this solar cycle, which triggered a temporary blackout on the the side of Earth facing the sun, interfering with navigation and short wave radio.

However, several CMEs (coronal mass ejections) also occurred in association with these flares. These CMEs are traveling faster than 1100 miles a second and are slated to impact Earth and Mars, as well as several NASA spacecraft. The first CME will reach Earth around 1:25 AM EST on Thursday morning. NASA says such a CME “could result in a severe geomagnetic storm, causing aurora at low latitudes, with possible disruption to high frequency radio communication, global positioning systems (GPS), and power grids.”

In addition, a CME associated with a smaller March 4th solar flare distorted the magnetic fields of the earth, triggering a moderate geomagnetic storm. These new CMEs threaten to further agitate the Earth’s magnetic field.

These storms may seem stronger because the Earth has enjoyed a period of relative quiet in regard to weak solar activity. Bill Murtagh, program coordinator for the space weather center said, “This is a good-size event, but not the extreme type.” However, because of radiation and communication problems, some airlines have already begun altering flight routes.

There are several ways that these events can impact us, causing extensive problems, and that’s through magnetic, radiation, or radio emissions. The magnetic part of the storm that affects the power grid has utility companies around the world standing by in case the timing and speed of the storm knocks out service. A 1989 solar storm took down the power grid in Quebec, leaving over 6 million people with no power.

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