An outburst from the sun late Sunday night is bathing Earth in the most powerful solar-radiation storm in six years.
The radiation storm is the first act of an event that will crescendo Tuesday, when the brunt of the outburst – called a coronal-mass ejection – arrives at Earth. It could trigger a disturbance of Earth's magnetic field, leading to voltage swings in long-distance power transmission lines as well as the appearance of the northern lights as far south as New York.
The current radiation storm – rated an S3, or strong, on a scale of 1 to 5 – could damage satellite hardware and present an increased risk of radiation exposure to passengers flying at high altitudes across polar routes, say space-weather specialists. These risks, however, are expected to be manageable.