Quote:On March 15, 2:54 a.m. EST, scientists observed a so-called coronal mass ejection, or CME, a solar phenomenon that can send billions of tons of solar particles into space.
Blazing through space at an estimated speed of 900 miles per second, the CME is expected to reach Earth sometime within the next day or two.
Data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration says CMEs at this velocity have historically caused mild to moderate effects on Earth.
The CME can potentially affect electronic systems in satellites and on the ground. There's a chance the current CME could affect the Spitzer space telescope and Messenger Mercury probe, though, according to a NASA statement, only minor radiation has been detected within the CME, so there's a low chance the computers and electronics of the interplanetary spacecraft will be damaged in connection with the event.
A CME is not the same as a solar flare, which is an explosion of hot gases and high-intensity light rays. Solar flares as localized phenomena that push waves of light all across the spectrum, including light people can't see with their eyes alone, such as X-rays and gamma rays. The Earth's atmosphere absorbs most of these high-energy, potentially damaging rays.
But CMEs, which can expand to several time bigger than the Sun itself, can cause geomagnetic storms, temporary disturbances of the plant's magnetosphere caused by a solar wind shock wave, cloud of magnetic field that interacts with the Earth's magnetic field, or both.
Geomagnetic storms can affect the natural dynamics of the planet, the ways living creatures function and, yes, the power and communication networks upon which so many in the world rely.
A CME on the scale of the one headed toward Earth now is able to produce a geomagnetic storm of mild to medium in intensity.
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