Enormous Solar Flare Set Will Cause Massive Communication Disruptions Tonight

It appears Tuesday's massive solar eruption is already impacting communications in southern China and may disrupt satellites in orbit and electrical grids on the ground over the next few days. The X-class flare is the most powerful seen in four years.

Class X solar flare—the largest category of solar flash—was ejected from a Jupiter-sized sun spot Tuesday, sending a missile of charged plasma particles hurtling toward earth at speeds of more than 550 miles per second. It's actually one of three coronal mass ejections (CMEs) headed this way—two smaller ones preceded it—and is expected to reach the Earth's orbit sometime tonight.

The China Meteorological Administration reported that the solar storm has already disrupted shortwave radio signals in southern China, causing "sudden ionospheric disturbances that jammed signals.

"Ground to air, ship to shore, shortwave broadcast and amateur radio are vulnerable to disruption during geomagnetic storms," the U.S. National Weather Service said in a statement regarding the incoming solar activity. "Navigation systems like GPS can also be adversely affected."

But as in all storms, solar or otherwise, dark clouds always have silver lining. The British Geological Survey reports that the increased solar activity should bring spectacular Northern Lights displays further south than usual, dazzling Brits with a rare view of a really active aurora borealis. Hopefully the lights in the sky won't be the only ones left burning after the solar flare hits.

Enormous Solar Flare Set Will Cause Massive Communication Disruptions TonightPopular Science is your wormhole to the future. Reporting on what's new and what's next in science and technology, we deliver the future now.

[AFP, Image credit: NASA/SDO]