Solar storm not nearly as bad as could have been

3/9/2012

Our high-tech world seems to have weathered a solar storm that was still showing signs of life late Thursday.

While some experts think the threat from the solar storm passed by earlier in the day, space weather forecasters said it's still too early to relax because the storm's effects could continue through Friday morning.

Around midnight EST Thursday, the storm reached what forecasters called a "moderate level."

"We've seen a bit of an increase in mag (magnetic field) geo-activity, relative to what we saw earlier today," said Norm Cohen, a senior space weather forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo.

He wasn't aware of any significant effects to key electrical or technological systems, but said there was a two-hour blackout of high frequency radio communications — affecting mainly ham radio operations — stretching from eastern Africa to eastern Australia.

Hours earlier, NASA solar physicist David Hathaway said that it appeared that the storm was over, based on a drop in a key magnetic reading.

But Doug Biesecker — also with the weather prediction center, which forecasts solar storms — pointed to an increase in a different magnetic field measurement.

Scientists do agree that other storms may be lining up in the cosmic shooting gallery in the coming, days month and year.

The storm, which started with a solar flare Tuesday evening, caused a stir Wednesday because forecasts were for a strong storm with the potential to knock electrical grids offline, mess with GPS and harm satellites. It even forced airlines to reroute a few flights on Thursday.

It was never seen as a threat to people, just technology, and teased skywatchers with the prospect of colorful Northern Lights dipping further south.

But when the storm finally arrived around 6 a.m. EST Thursday, after traveling at 2.7 million mph, it was more a magnetic breeze than a gale. The power stayed on. So did GPS and satellites. And the promise of auroras seemed to be more of a mirage.


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