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Solar flare spectacular, but impact likely to be minimal

The sun unleashes a medium-sized solar flare on Tuesday. The flare is expected to cause a minor disruption in the Earth’s magnetic field.

NASA

The sun unleashes a medium-sized solar flare on Tuesday. The flare is expected to cause a minor disruption in the Earth’s magnetic field.

A solar flare erupted from the sun in an impressive display captured by NASA cameras, but scientists say the event will have a minimal impact on Earth.

The flare peaked early Tuesday and created a large cloud that appeared to cover almost half the surface of the sun, NASA said. A cloud of charged particles erupted from the sun's outer atmosphere and was expected to pass by Earth overnight, causing a minor disruption to Earth's magnetic field, according to the National Weather Service's Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo.

"It was spectacular to watch, but not big in terms of hazards to the Earth," said Michael Hesse, chief of the space weather laboratory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

At most, the cloud that erupted from the sun may cause some brief interruptions to high-frequency radio communications, especially closer to the North and South poles, said Joe Kunches, a space scientist at SWPC. Some global positioning devices also may make tiny errors, he said.

A much larger solar flare erupted Saturday, but NASA could not capture images because it happened on the side of the sun opposite Earth, Hesse said. Scientists have been expecting an increase in solar activity because the sun is moving into a more volatile period of an 11-year cycle in which its magnetic field reverses its orientation.

"The sun has woken up and is becoming more active as we approach the solar maximum," expected in 2013, Hesse said.

Solar flare spectacular, but impact likely to be minimal 06/08/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 8, 2011 10:44pm]
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