Supercharged sun storm promises disruptions as it races toward Earth


WASHINGTON - For the second straight week, rare magnetic flares from the sun threaten to disrupt power grids, radio transmissions and satellite communications worldwide.

The effects were expected as early as last night, and could continue throughout the week, space weather forecasters said.

The up-side is that the event could cause the spectacular, normally Arctic display known as the northern lights, or aurora borealis, to be visible in the midsection of the United States. Given clear nights, it could even dip as low as Philadelphia and Denver.

The magnetic storm, spewing from sunspots, "seems to be coming straight toward Earth," said forecaster Larry Combs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Environment Center in Boulder, Colo. "Definitely we're going to get hit."

The magnetic storm was moving so fast - 1,200 miles per second - that although it was first spotted yesterday morning, it was expected to hit Earth as early as 8 p.m. last night.

The supercharged particles can overload power grids and disrupt satellites' electrical and navigation systems. The flare caused at least one high-frequency radio blackout early yesterday, Combs said.

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