Radiation from a massive solar storm -- which scientists at NASA called the strongest in nearly a decade -- collided with the Earth's atmosphere on Tuesday Jan. 24, 2012, causing disruptions for several airlines and delighting avid skywatchers.
NASA said the event began late Sunday at around 11 p.m. EST with a moderate-sized solar flare that erupted near the center of the sun.
NASA confirmed that the coronal mass ejection (CME) began colliding with Earth's magnetic field Tuesday, adding that the storm is considered the largest since October 2003.
Despite how it may sound, radiation storms are not harmful to humans - at least on Earth. They can, however, affect satellite operations and short wave radio signals.
NASA's spokesman Rob Navias said that the flight surgeons and solar experts of NASA have examined the solar storm's expected effects and reached the conclusion that the six astronauts currently on the International Space Station (ISS) do not need any extra protection from the radiation.
They predict that the storm's radiation will likely continue through Wednesday and may disrupt satellite communications in the polar regions and prompt more rerouting of airlines.
Because of the unusual intensity of the protons raining on Earth, the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, has been seen much farther south than usual in spots like Scotland, northern England, and lower latitudes in the United States.
Delta Air Lines said it altered routes on Tuesday for a handful of flights between the United States and Asia to avoid problems caused by the radiation storm, and that the changes were adding about 15 minutes to travel times.
We are undergoing a series of solar bursts in the sky that are impacting the northern side of the world, Delta spokesman Anthony Black told Reuters.
It can impact your ability to communicate, he said. So, basically, the polar routes are being flown further south than normal.
Flights diverted by the strong solar radiation storm included several between Midwestern cities like Detroit and Asian hubs.
Both Qantas and Air Canada confirmed Wednesday that they too shifted the path of several flights.
According to a United Airlines spokesman, the carrier diverted one flight on Monday due to the storm, but none on Tuesday.
American Airlines, meanwhile, reported no operational impact due to solar flares but added that it was monitoring the atmosphere.
About 8,000 flights a year operate on polar routes, typically between North America and Asia. The polar route is seen as the quickest distance between the two continents.
Airlines are at risk for a loss of communications on Arctic routes because they must use high-frequency radios when cruising over the remote region instead of satellite-based systems, according to Doug Biesecker, a solar physicist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center.
Biesecker claims the 2012 solar storm is the 11th-most powerful storm measured since 1975.