WASHINGTON — A magnetic storm that could disrupt radio transmissions and satellites--and also produce colorful northern lights--is expected to strike the Earth today and could last until Monday.
The massive sunspot eruption took place early Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported.
"The storm is expected to reach strong to severe levels, which can adversely affect satellite operations and power grids," reported the agency.
In addition, space weather forecasters said there is a good chance of seeing the aurora borealis through Sunday morning in cities as far south as Washington, Seattle, New York and Denver.
NOAA's Space Environment Center in Boulder, Colo., reported that Friday's large complex sunspot group produced one of the largest solar flares seen in recent years.
The solar flare burst from the surface of the sun about 6:24 a.m. EDT, the center said.
The eruption ejected billions of tons of plasma and charged particles into space, some of it heading toward Earth at 3 million miles per hour. The mass ejection is expected to strike the Earth's magnetic field this afternoon and cause the geomagnetic storm.
The Earth's magnetic field protects the planet from most such charged particles, but in a strong burst such as this some disruptions can occur. As the field deflects the incoming particles, they are moved toward the north and south poles, where they cause the northern and southern lights, called auroras.