The biggest solar storm in seven years has delivered a blast of radiation that's reportedly already affecting air traffic.
On Sunday, the sun erupted with an M8.7 class flare, which generated an earth-directed coronal mass ejection (CME), which in turn launched a burst of fast moving, highly energetic protons known as a "solar energetic particle" event towards Earth. The latter has caused the strongest solar radiation storm (S3 level) since September 2005 according to NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center.
Airlines have been forced to alter their travel routes to account for the disturbance. According to Gizmodo:
The storm has already affected air traffic and may affect satellites. On a telephone interview, NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center physicist Doug Biesecker told me that, fortunately, there are measures to avoid most dangers.
"Many airliners have been avoiding the North Pole routes because they are more exposed to the proton storm, which disrupts High Frequency radio communications," he said. HF datalinks are crucial to modern airflight, as they keep aircraft connected to Air Traffic Control. Due to the structure of the magnetic field that surrounds Earth, the polar cusps have very little protection against outbursts of solar radiation, so any airplane crossing that area could be exposed to this mayhem.
The storm is expected to last until Wednesday. For now, airplanes below the 65th parallel north are flying at reduced altitudes to avoid the effects of radiation. Scary stuff!
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