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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 October, 2003, 10:48 GMT 11:48 UK
Solar storm buffets Earth
By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor

Stanford University image
One big sunspot and another on the way
The Earth has been buffeted by a cloud of superhot gas thrown off the Sun a few days ago. Scientists report it caused a moderate "geomagnetic storm".

Charged particles affected electric utilities, airline communications and satellite navigation systems.

"We predicted it would be a mid-level storm, and that's where it is," said Joe Kunches, chief of space weather operations at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Environment Center in Boulder, Colorado.

Power grid operators and satellite users were notified about the storm and no serious problems have been reported.

"We've heard from the power grid operators. They're doing OK, but they're seeing the effects of the storm in their data," Kunches said.

Balancing act

Communications systems in northern Canada are reported to have also seen some effects of the storm.

Disruptions to electrical systems are caused by wild fluctuations in the Earth's magnetic field.

"The Earth's magnetic field pulls it in... and is now trying to balance it," Kunches said.

Earth's magnetic field disruption
The storm struck on Friday and disrupted the Earth's magnetic field
The Global Positioning System - a satellite navigation facility - was affected, losing its high precision service for a while.

High frequency airline communications were also degraded in some cases.

Climbers on Mount Everest also reported interference on their radio equipment.

Two major expeditions on the mountain have reported trouble sending data via satellite.

As the storm continues, predicted to be followed by others for the next two weeks or so, further disruption is predicted for satellites, power systems and even mobile phones.

It comes from one of the largest groups of sunspots seen for years.

Heather Cooper, astronomer
"We've never seen anything like this before"

Earth put on solar storm alert
24 Oct 03  |  Science/Nature
Spacecraft chases solar flares
06 Feb 02  |  Science/Nature
Here comes the Sun... again
23 Jan 02  |  Science/Nature
Sun unleashes the big one
04 Apr 01  |  Science/Nature

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