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Monster solar flare to hit Earth on Thursday, could disrupt flights

Solar Flare

Solar Flare

The largest solar flare in five years is heading toward Earth and could disrupt commercial airline flights, high-powered GPS and power grids, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Wednesday.

The sun ejected the violent flare Tuesday, and forecasters think it will hit Earth around 7 a.m. EST Thursday and last through Friday morning.

Commercial airlines may need to adjust their flights patterns, and electric and agriculture industries may need to adjust how they use high-powered GPS devices, said Terry Onsager, a space weather meteorologist for NOAA.

"If the GPS you use in your car is off by a meter or two, it won't impact you, but for the agriculture industry, where high accuracy is needed, this will impact them," he added.

While it is merely a possibility that these industries will face immediate problems, forecasters said there could be long-term effects.

The impacts are "more gradual over time rather than catastrophic," Onsager said, adding that it could lead to the "degradation of solar panels, the power system and transformers."

Still, New Yorkers probably don't have much to worry about.

"There's a possibility that [Wednesday night] there could be an aurora borealis appearing in the sky around midnight," but the solar storm probably won't disable an satellites or other technologies, he said.

But the future may hold bigger problems as the sun nears the end of its 11-year sunspot cycle.

"We are moving up towards the most active time," Onsager said. "We're expecting storms like this and, quite likely, more severe to occur over the next few years."

Follow Amanda Dallas on Twitter: @DallasSayWhat

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