NASA warns of solar storm racing toward Earth this week

Particles from coronal mass ejection could affect satellites and ground electrical systems

NASA issued a warning Tuesday that a coronal mass ejection may reach Earth this week, possibly affecting satellites and electronic systems on the ground.

On Tuesday, at 4:24 a.m. ET, the sun erupted with an Earth-directed coronal mass ejection, which is a huge burst of solar wind and magnetic fields shooting into space, NASA reported. This solar phenomenon can launch billions of tons of particles into space, reaching Earth one to three days later.

With that time frame, the particles could reach Earth between today and Friday.

The solar particles won't harm humans, but they can affect satellites and electronic systems, breaking up communication signals and causing electrical surges in power grids.

The space agency noted that the coronal mass ejection burst from the sun at speeds of about 570 miles per second.

Geomagnetic storms, or temporary disturbances in the Earth's magnetosphere, caused by coronal mass ejections are generally mild.

Early in 2012, the largest solar flare in six years caused problems for some GPS systems, airline communications systems and satellites for a few days.

Several airlines, including Delta and United, diverted flights that normally travel over the North and South Poles, as well as some high-altitude routes.

In March 2012, another solar storm hit the Earth's magnetic field, though it was considered a low-level event.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at  @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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