Sunspot Shoots Powerful Solar Storm Toward Earth

by Dave Mosher
March 5, 2012

Magnetic disturbances on the sun hurled a colossal burst of charged particles into space overnight.

The solar storm erupted from the sunspot AR 1429 at 11:13 p.m. EST on Sunday, March 4. According to a NASA forecast, it should reach Earth between late Tuesday night and Wednesday.

The exact size of the burst, formally known as a coronal mass ejection, isn’t yet known, but in terms of energy it’s an X1.1-class eruption — among the strongest measured by astronomers.. A direct hit by an X-class storm can cause radio blackouts, cripple satellites and heat wires.

Thankfully, the current space forecast suggests only the edge of the burst should clip Earth. The Space Weather Prediction Center announced that the event may spawn a minor radiation storm on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Similar solar storms are expected to increase as the sun moves toward solar maximum, the end of an 11-year cycle in which its magnetic fields become increasingly contorted.

The sun’s worst magnetic contortions typically appear over sunspots. When magnetic field lines break and reconnect, charged particles traveling along them can be flung into space.

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