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January 22, 2012

Strongest Solar Storm in 7 Years Hitting Earth

The biggest solar storm in seven years currently is hitting the Earth, but does not pose a threat to life on the planet.

The U.S. National Weather Service says the blast of solar radiation, known as a Coronal Mass Ejection, or CME, may disrupt some satellite and electric ground communications as it peaks on Tuesday.  The inclement space weather is expected to last until Wednesday.

The U.S. weather agency says this week’s CME originated from a moderate x-ray flare that erupted on the surface of the Sun early Monday Universal time (0400 UTC).

The Solar Heliospheric Observatory captured the coronal mass ejection (CME) in this video (which shows the sun's activity from January 19 to January 23). Courtesy: SOHO/ESA & NASA


The last time the Sun produced a storm of this intensity was May 2005.   

The Sun is entering an increasingly violent period of its normal 11-year cycle.  This interval of high activity, known as the solar maximum, is expected to peak in 2013.

CME’s are billion-ton clouds of super-heated gas and charged particles that are blasted into space from the Sun’s upper atmosphere, the corona, at several million kilometers per hour.  

When the storm’s plasma and particles strike the Earth’s protective magnetic field, the interaction produces colorful auroras - the beautiful, harmless light displays that are seen shimmering across the night skies near North and South poles.