Thursday, March 8, 2012

Planes Being Rerouted Due To Solar Flare Storm

The largest solar storm in five years -- spawned by a double whammy of flares from the sun -- has engulfed Earth, but scientists say the planet has lucked out so far.

The storm arrived more peacefully Thursday morning than it could have. Scientists say that could change as the storm spends the day shaking the planet's magnetic field. Airlines and power grid operators were warned of potential issues from the storm -- and some reported taking precautionary steps just in case.

“We are flying alternate routes for seven flights,” Anthony Black, a spokesman for Delta Airlines, told Polar flights -- those with paths that cross over the North Pole -- can suffer from communications issues and pilots and passengers can be exposed to radiation.

To avoid that, Delta switched to preplanned alternate routes for several westbound flights between U.S. cities such as Atlanta, Minneapolis and New York City and Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Nagoya.

“It may be 15 to 20 minutes of additional time,” Black said.

Joseph Kunches, a space weather scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center, said the agency may have overestimated the effects of the blast.

“We expected the freight train. The freight train has gone by, is still going by, and now we’re watching to see how this all shakes out,” Kunches said. The challenge: the agency can't anticipated the orientation of the magnetic field within the charged particles sent from the sun.

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