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Posted by Astronomy Watch on October 29, 2003 at 17:45:59:
The Sun hurled a huge cloud of charged particles at Earth yesterday, with an intensity that could affect satellites, power grids and pipelines when it reaches our planet.
The cloud, known to astronomers as a coronal mass ejection, could hit later today (Wednesday).
Aside from affecting some modern electronics and navigation equipment, the solar storm could also create an aurora that might be visible as far south as the southern United States and southern Europe.
"For most people this will be a great event," said Mr Paal Brekke, a scientist who works with the SOHO satellite that first detected the blast. "People on the ground shouldn't worry. The only thing you should be aware of is that some of the modern equipment - GPS, pager, cellphone - some of these will fail. Most of the time, we can live without them."
The key is to figure out the direction of the magnetic field embedded in the cloud. If the magnetic field is pointing northward, the same as the northward orientation of Earth's magnetic field, "it will glide more easily past us."
If the field is pointing southward, "it will have a very dramatic effect on the system ... it will shake up our whole magnetosphere and cause a severe geomagnetic storm."
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration said a strong geomagnetic storm like this one could cause widespread voltage control problems in power systems, including transformer damage, could cause problems with satellites and other spacecraft and could cause charging of currents in pipelines.