A solar storm will begin whipping around the Earth's magnetic fields Wednesday and it will cause unusually bright auroras, but also potential radio blackouts, astronomers say.
Radiation from the flare, also known as a coronal mass ejection, will cause magnetic storms that could disrupt any devices that use radio waves. Systems like GPS and mobile phones will be the most prominently affected. Flares like this are part of an overall increase in solar activity. It runs in cycles, recurring every 11 years, and the current cycle will peak in 2013. Category G1 (minor) geomagnetic storms are expected Wednesday and Thursday due to mulitiple coronal mass ejections. R1 radio blackouts are expected until Saturday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center said on their Web site.
Coronal mass ejections shoot off billions of tons of X-ray- and ultraviolet-emitting gases at nearly 5 million miles per hour. They are also nearly 1 million degrees Centigrade. When these bursts hit the Earth from time to time, the northern lights shimmer in even more excited states. They're caused by ionised solar wind getting trapped by Earth's magnetic field. This causes the solar particles to heat up, and the high energy emitted comes in the form of light. But the light show is not the only effect. The magnetic storms the particles sometimes generate have, in extreme examples, interfered with satellites and power lines.
In November, one of the biggest storms the sun can generate was discovered. It's called an X1.9 flare, and it was one of the biggest in many years. A large flare occurred in August, but because it happened on the side of the sun facing away from the Earth, there was no interference recorded here.