An extreme solar flare is heading toward Earth – one the size of which scientists say they haven't seen coming from the middle of the sun in years. The solar storm could interfere with power grids, satellites and radio transmissions, and even though these events are common and don't directly harm humans, this particular flare is disconcerting because of its strength and location on the sun, said Tom Berger, director of the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado.
"There's been a giant magnetic explosion on the sun," Berger said. "Because it's pointed right at us, we'll at least catch some of the cloud" of highly energized and magnetized plasma that can disrupt Earth's magnetic sphere, which sometimes leads to temporary power grid problems.
Forecasters don't yet know when Wednesday's solar storm will arrive here and which part of the planet will be facing the sun and bear the brunt of the effects. It could arrive as early as Thursday morning or may take a few days.
Berger said scientists will have a better idea after they get more satellite data. The first part of the storm, which arrives in only a few minutes, has already affected radio transmissions. It can also damage satellites.
The flare is considered "extreme" on forecasters' scale, but just barely so, Berger said.
On the plus side, sun flares expand the colorful northern lights so people farther south can see them.
This is not your usual weather forecast. Huge storms are falling down on the Earth, coming from the sun. It’s raining down a huge amount of radiation. So far we are safe, but it could affect power grids, radios and satellites.
Experts say the combined energy from two recent solar events will arrive at Earth on September 13 and continue to pour down for a few days. The Space Weather Prediction Center has issued an intense Geomagnetic Storm Watch.
The sun is 92.1 percent hydrogen and 7.8 percent helium. Every now and then it spits out a giant burst of radiation called a coronal mass ejection, or CME.
CMEs are sometimes associated with solar flares, the most explosive events in the solar system. The sun has released two CMEs in the past two days and both are linked to solar flares. NASA says the second flare is an X1.6 class, putting it in the most intense category.
Space weather experts aren’t sure yet what this solar storm will do.
“This is a pretty strong solar storm and we just won’t know until it gets here” what it will do, said CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers.Earth’s atmosphere usually protects us humans, but you might want to keep a flashlight handy. Solar storms can knock out power, interfere with GPS and radio communications — including those on commercial airliners — and they can damage satellites.
“People on the ground really don’t have to worry,” Lika Guhathakurta, a program scientist with NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, told CNN. She said solar storms don’t impact humans on the ground, although astronauts could be at risk.--