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article imageSunspot AR1429 erupts with X5.4 flare that may hit Earth

By JohnThomas Didymus     Mar 8, 2012 in Science
The Sun erupted late on Tuesday (March 6) with the most powerful flares in more than five years. Experts say the flare may interrupt satellites in orbit and disrupt power grids when it reaches Earth.
According to Space Weather Prediction Center, the Sun late on Tuesday (7:24 p.m. EST March 6; 0024 UTC, March 7), unleashed two massive X-class solar flares. The bigger of the two flares was rated an X5.4 flare on the space weather scale and is the biggest solar flare so far this year.
The bigger flare ranked X5.4 was the first flare, and it erupted at 7:02 EST(0002 March 7 GMT), according to the Space Weather Prediction Center. The second flare erupted about an hour later and was ranked X1.3. reports that several space-based NASA spacecraffts, including including NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory and the Stero-B spacecraft, captured videos of the solar flare that generated a wave of solar plasma and charged particles called coronal mass ejection(CME).
Fox News reports the CME was hurled into space at as much as 4 million miles per hour, and astronomers say it is expected to hit the Earth directly. reports Jospeh Kunches, a space weather scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told reporters: "Space weather has gotten very interesting over the last 24 hours. This was quite the Super Tuesday — you bet."
According to Kunches, solar activity has already led to an R3 level radio blackout on NOAA’s space weather scale that reaches to R5. The radio blackouts are caused by X-ray emissions from the Sun. Space Weather Prediction Center says geomagnetic storm periods reaching the G3 (Strong) level are expected. Solar radiation storm levels, according to Space Weather Prediction Center, are now above S3 (Strong). The Center warns that the Sun's active region 1429 producing the recent series of flares remains potent and more activity is possible.
Astronomers calculate the CME will reach the Earth on March 8 at 7 a.m. EST (1200GMT) and the effects will likely last 24 hrs and may linger into Friday.
Scientists stress, however, that the forecasts are uncertain. reports Harlan Spence, astrophysicist at the University of New Hamphire, said: "We've got a whole series of things going off, and they take different times to arrive, so they're all piling on top of each other. It complicates the forecasting and predicting because there are always inherent uncertainties with any single event. Now, with multiple events piling on top of one another, that uncertainty grows."
Kunches said power grid operators have been alerted as well as regulatory agencies. Fox News reports GPS users may also be affected. High frequency communication systems that planes rely upon may also be affected. Kunches said that solar radiation storms may reach as high as S4 and astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) will have to seek shelter from the heightened radiation levels.
Sky watchers in high latitudes should look out for spectacular aurora displays, astronomers say.
Digital Journal reported that solar activity surged after a relatively quiet February following the appearance of a new active sunspot AR1429 on March 2. On March 5, the Sun erupted with a major X1-class flare.
More about sunspot AR1429, X54 flare, Solar flare, Coronal mass ejection
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