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Solar storms bombard Earth and cause some headaches

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The sun blasted out two waves of electrically charged particles toward Earth this week. The first one was linked with a moderate M4.6 solar flare that occurred on Monday, Sept. 8 and the second one was associated with a stronger X1.6 flare that the sun spewed on Wednesday, Sept. 10.

The phenomena known as coronal mass ejection, or CME, are powerful eruptions of hot plasma that is made up of electrically-charged particles that the sun releases when major solar flares happen, which occur when the sun emits a sudden flash of brightness that is associated with the release of tremendous amounts of energy.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center director Thomas Berger said that the first CME rendezvoused with the magnetic field of the Earth on Thursday while the second one started to arrive on Friday.

Solar storms accompanied by CME can cause headaches as they could cause unwanted effects on communication systems and power grids as well as result in rerouted flights. In 1989, a strong geomagnetic storm led weather satellites to go offline, caused massive blackouts and raised fears of a nuclear strike in progress.

Although this week's solar storms could only be noticed by special equipment, scientists said they can also disrupt radio communication, GPS navigation system and power grids in northern United States. Power grid operators may have to adjust the levels on their dials, planes may take a different route for several days and GPS signals may not work accurately because of this week's solar events.

Berger, however, said that they do not expect anything extreme that could cause unmanageable impact and damages to national infrastructure and what they do expect is that more people will be able to see colorful northern lights as a result of the solar storms.

"We do expect these storm levels to cause significant auroral displays across much of the northern U.S. on Friday night," Berger said. "With clear skies currently forecast for much of these regions, this could be a good opportunity for auroral sightings."

Nathan Schwadro, from the University of New Hampshire's Space Science Center, said that the recent occurrence of the solar flare has significant implications in that it suggests that the solar system's main source of energy is still active.

"The recent solar flare suggests that the sun may still be active, albeit, in an unusually quiet solar maximum," Schwadro said.

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