5 Effects of 2012’s Solar Flare

on January 24, 2012 2:11 PM EST

Solar Flare
A solar flare occurring at 11 p.m. on Sunday caused a mass coronal ejection, a burst of charged particles, and is causing the biggest solar storm since to hit the Earth since 2005. But what exactly is a solar flare? (Photo: NASA)

A solar flare occurring at 11 p.m. on Sunday caused a mass coronal ejection, a burst of charged particles, and is causing the biggest solar storm since to hit the Earth since 2005. But what exactly is a solar flare?

A solar flare is a large release of energy from the sun, about a sixth of the total energy output of the Sun each second. With this burst of energy comes a cloud of electrons, ions, and atoms and a great deal of radiation speeding away from the sun at 93 million miles per hour. 2012's solar flare will hit Earth three separate times through Wednesday, and while there is no danger to people, the solar flare could have other effects.

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1) Auroras - When the solar flare hits Earth, the collection of charged particles colliding against each other causes an aurora borealis in the Northern Hemisphere and an aurora australias in the Southern Hemisphere. Characterized by a band of a variety of green, red or blue lights, auroras can be seen strongest around the poles.

2) GPS Interruption - The radiation from the solar flare could disrupt radio signals, including devices that rely on GPS. The devices could misrepresent your location or malfunction completely.

3) Power Outages - The solar flare can cause extra electrical currents in the atmosphere, which the electrical grid is particularly vulnerable to. These currents can infiltrate high-voltage lines, and cause transformers to overheat and burn out, leading to long term power outages.

4) Satellite Damage - The solar flare can cause orbiting satellites to reboot due to the radiation, and could possibly cause a loss of data from those satellites. They are not, however, expected to sustain long-term damage.

5) Disruption of Flights - Not only can satellites not be launched into orbit during this time, any airlines whose flights are scheduled to fly through the Arctic Circle must be rerouted because of the increased amount of radiation.

This storm is categorized as an S3, which is a "strong" storm. The highest category for a space storm is an S5.

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