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The Earth is currently being hit by one of the biggest solar storms in five years, with disturbances possible for satellites, power grids and communications.
The Earth is in the midst of one of the biggest solar storms in years, triggered by a pair of huge solar flares.
While the geomagnetic disturbance, expected to last throughout Thursday, could have caused disruption to satellites, radio communications and power grids, so far it has not.
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CNN reported this afternoon that, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, the geomagnetic storm had so far only reached G1, the lowest level on an intensity scale, of G1 (weak) to G5 (exrtreme) while the solar radion storm scored an S3 for an intensity on a similar one-to-five scale.
Some airlines, including Delta and American, have nevertheless diverted planes routed over the north pole.
Two solar flares – sudden bursts of magnetic energy – occurred on March 6. According to NASA, they were both classed as X flares – the most powerful kind. There has been only one flare larger during this solar cycle, in August 2011. As well as causing a temporary radio blackout on the side of the Earth facing the sun, the flares sent billions of charged particles into space at high speed, in an associated event known as a coronal mass ejection (CME).
The radiation and plasma released is now battering the Earth's magnetosphere – the magnetic "envelope" that surrounds the planet – and causing a geomagnetic storm.
"It's hitting us right in the nose," Joe Kunches, a scientist at NOAA, told the Associated Press.
According to Space.com, the storm was expected to prove the strongest overall solar storm since December 2006, even bigger than those triggered by larger flares, due to "an odd combination of intense magnetic, radio and radiation emissions."
The event will essentially "shake" the Earth's magnetic field, Doug Beisiecker of NOAA told the BBC. "And if you shake a magnetic field you generate things like electric currents in the atmosphere and, say, in the power grid that crisscrosses pretty much every country on the planet now."
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The result could have been disturbances for air traffic, satellites and any astronauts taking space walks, Reuters reported, as well as potential disruption of power grids, oil pipelines and certain industrial GPS systems.
It's also likely to cause intense displays of the Northern Lights, which may be visible further south than usual. Spaceweather.com advises sky watchers at all latitudes to look out for auroras.
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the flare in two different wavelengths. Watch the video here: