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Strong solar storm could affect polar flights this week
[January 24, 2012]

Strong solar storm could affect polar flights this week

WASHINGTON, Jan 24, 2012 (dpa - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- The strongest solar storm to hit Earth since October 2003 could affect high altitude navigation, prompting some airlines to avoid polar routes, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Tuesday.

The first particles of the plasma cloud associated with the storm were detected Monday by the US Space Weather Prediction Centre's aircraft, NOAA said.

The intensity of solor protons in the cloud soared well above the normal threshold on Monday, prompting NOAA to issue an alert to airlines, satellite companies and other industries, Terry Onsager, a physicist with NOAA at its space weather prediction center in Colorado, told dpa.

But the decision to change flight plans is up to the airlines based on NOAA data -- not the result of any advice from NOAA, he said.

"My understanding is that some of the airlines have made the decision to not fly the polar routes, and rerouting has occurred," Onsager said.

He did not know which airlines had made flight changes. In Argentina, an official at Aerolineas Argentinas, which routinely conducts polar flights, said the airline was not aware of the alert or of the solar storm.

The most important measurement for polar flights is the solar proton measurement from weather satellites, which are updated every five minutes on the centre's website, according to Onsager.

The airlines know "that when the proton flux is high, it impacts the ability to use high frequency radio communications in the polar regions," he said.

There were no initial reports of damage, and the geomagnetic effects of the storm are expected to be largely innocuous for humans and their natural environment.

NOAA detected a bright solar flare Sunday evening, and warned that it was part of the "the strongest radiation storm in more than six years." "Associated with Sunday's flare was a 'coronal mass ejection,' a burst of charged particles and magnetic field that streamed out from the sun at about 4 million miles an hour," NOAA said Monday. "The coronal mass ejection (CME) is heading toward Earth." ___ (c)2012 Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany) Visit Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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