'Significant' solar flare may affect communications, GPS on Wednesday

Radiation emission could hit radios, power lines and satellites

The sun emitted what NASA is calling a "significant" solar flare on Saturday that could affect communications systems on Earth on Wednesday.

The National Weather Service's Space Weather Prediction Center is calling the eruption a radio blackout event. The center reported that the solar flare could affect satellites and cause GPS errors. Electrical power lines could be hit by extra current, and high frequency communications could be blocked when the radiation hits Earth.

Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation, according to NASA, but the harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through the Earth's atmosphere to physically hurt humans. However, powerful flares can affect the Earth's atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communication signals travel.

NASA categorized Saturday's flare as an X1-class eruption. X-class solar flares are the most intense eruptions. The number adds more information about its strength. An X2, for instance, is twice as intense as an X1.

Last fall, the sun emitted a series of intense solar flares that caused radio blackouts and affected GPS systems.

Between Oct. 23 and Oct 30, the sun emitted four X-class solar flares.

Scientists said they weren't surprised to see an increase in solar flares since the sun is approaching the peak of the its normal 11-year activity cycle.

The largest flare in this current cycle was emitted on Aug. 9, 2011. That flare was an X6.9.

Solar flare
Extreme ultraviolet light shoots out of an X-class solar flare on Saturday. The image was captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. (Photo: NASA/SDO)

This article, 'Significant' solar flare may affect communications, GPS on Wednesday, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

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.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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