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Solar storm hits Earth after huge flare

Radiation heads toward planet, satellite disruptions expected

A solar storm is hitting Earth on Tuesday following a huge solar flare eruption Sunday that sent radiation hurtling towards our planet.

The resulting geomagnetic storm, the biggest since 2005, could disrupt GPS and satellite communications, although the threat is said to be low, scientists say.

Today's solar storm could also cause unusually intense Northern Lights, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The aurora borealis may be visible at lower latitudes than usual.

The solar flare, an eruption called a "coronal mass ejection," or CME, by scientists, has sent billions of tons of gas and charged particles streaming towards Earth at 2,200 km/s.

Some international airlines rerouted planes from polar areas to routes where radio communication is less likely to be affected by the geomagnetic storm, the Chronicle reported.

The solar flare was observed by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory and erupted from a sunspot on Monday, SpaceWeather.com reported.

News24 reported that the solar storm may have a particular impact in South Africa because of the South Atlantic Anomaly where the Earth's magnetic field is weakest.

South Africans have been told to avoid being exposed directly to the sun in the early afternoon local time, when the storm is expected to hit its peak. 

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SpaceWeather.com said the M9-class solar flare, also called an X-flare, could "cause isolated reboots of computers onboard Earth-orbiting satellites and interfere with polar radio communications."

The Sun is in an increasingly active period of its normal 11-year cycle, also known as a "solar maximum," VOA reported. Sun activity is expected to peak next year.

According to the Chronicle:

The sun goes through 11-year cycles of violent electromagnetic activity marked by intense sunspot regions on the surface, and right now it is moving from a "sunspot minimum" period toward a peak of activity with more intense and frequent magnetic storms during the next few years.

"The sun is waking up from a deep slumber, and in the next few years we expect to see much higher levels of solar activity," Richard Fisher, head of NASA's Heliophysics Division, reportedly said last year. "At the same time, our technological society has developed an unprecedented sensitivity to solar storms."

VOA said that while the current solar storm is the biggest in seven years, it "does not pose a threat to life on the planet."

The U.S.-based Solar & Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), a collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency, released a video showing a recent solar flare:

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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SDOmission2009 screengrab

A solar flare could be seen Sunday.

Youtube Video