if you feel particularly magnetic today, blame the sun

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If today you are watching BBC news or Al Jazeera, or even, dare I say, the Real Housewives tonight and you lose signal, blame the Sun. If you are all of a sudden quite popular at your local bar because of your magnetism, blame the Sun. If your compass is acting funny, it isn’t a ghost – blame the Sun. If your plane is flying lower than usual, blame the Sun. If your phone drops calls, blame AT&T, oh I mean the Sun.

At some point today, the Earth will be hit with what is being called the strongest geomagnetic storm in almost a decade, called a coronal mass ejection. Somehow that sounds quite pornographic. But I digress.

According to the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center, this geomagnetic storm could affect power infrastructure and grids, satellite communications, air travel communication, and many other sensitive high-tech devices. Particularly in regards to air communication, airlines that navigate close to the North Pole in flights between North America, Europe and Asia will most likely need to modify routes as a result. Some other flights at high latitudes are flying at lower altitudes.

This is all happening because a coronal mass ejection – a big piece of the Sun’s atmosphere – was hurled toward Earth, driving energized solar particles at about five million miles an hour [2,000 km per second], about five times faster than solar particles normally travel, according to the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center.

A solar eruption is followed by a one-two-three punch, said Antti Pulkkinen, a physicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. First comes electromagnetic radiation, followed by radiation in the form of protons. Then, finally the coronal mass ejection, that’s the plasma from the sun itself, hits. Usually that travels at about one or two million miles per hour, but this storm is particularly speedy.

It’s the plasma that causes many of the electronics-related problems on Earth, such as electrical grid outages. In 1989, a solar storm caused a massive blackout in Quebec. It can also allow the northern lights to be seen further south.

“Coronal Mass Ejection” would also be a great name for a band.

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