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Powerful Solar Flare Could  Have Major Impact on Communications - 2003-10-29

U.S. scientists say the second solar eruption in one week could disrupt communications on Earth again. This one is huge, much bigger than the one that struck the planet last week.

A gigantic solar flare bloomed out of a sunspot Tuesday, blasting tremendous amounts of electrically charged energy toward Earth.

Scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts call it the biggest solar eruption in 30 years.

They say last week's sun burst hit Earth only indirectly, although it was enough to interrupt airline communications.

But according to U.S. government space weather forecaster Mike Weaver, the more powerful blast expected to hit directly Thursday could interfere with satellite and radio communications and disrupt electric power grids, especially in the high latitudes of both the northern and southern hemispheres.

"The power companies are aware of the problems and they do their best to mitigate against them," he said. "If they didn't compensate for those problems, it could cause blackouts of power systems."

Scientists say there is no danger to people on the ground, but the U.S. space agency is expected to take precautions to protect the international space station crew.