WASHINGTON: One of the strongest solar storms in years engulfed Earth early today, but scientists say the planet may have lucked out. Hours after the storm arrived, officials said there were no reports of problems with power grids, satellites or other technologies that are often disrupted by solar storms.
But that still can change as the storm shakes the planet's magnetic field in ways that could disrupt technology but also spread colourful Northern Lights. Early indications show that it is about 10 times stronger than the normal solar wind that hits Earth. The storm started with a massive solar flare Tuesday evening and grew as it raced outward from the sun, expanding like a giant soap bubble, scientists said. The charged particles were expected to hit at 6.4 million kph. The storm struck about 1100 GMT (1645 NST) in a direction that causes the least amount of problems, said Joe Kunches, a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Centre. "It's not a terribly strong event. It's a very interesting event," he said.
Forecasters can predict the speed a solar storm travels and its strength, but the north-south orientation is the wild card. And this time, Earth got dealt a good card with a northern orientation, which is 'pretty benign', Kunches said. If it had been southern, that would have caused the most damaging technological disruption and biggest auroras. "We're not out of the woods," Kunches said this morning. "It was a good start. If I'm a power grid, I'm really happy so far." "This is a big sun spot group, particularly nasty," NASA solar physicist David Hathaway said. "Things are really twisted up and mixed up. It keeps flaring. Storms like this start with sun spots.”
Then comes an initial solar flare of subatomic particles that resemble a filament coming out of the sun. That part from this storm hit Earth only minutes after the initial burst, bringing radio and radiation disturbances. Then comes the coronal mass ejection, which looks like a growing bubble and takes a couple days to reach Earth.