Solar Storm Expected to Hit Earth at 4 Million MPH

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- While a massive cloud of charged particles is racing toward earth at 4 million miles per hour, NASA sun scientist Lisa Guhathakurta says don't get hysterical.

She also says beware.

On Tuesday, the sun erupted with the second largest flare of this 11-year solar cycle. That eruption sent a massive cloud of particles into space on a path headed toward earth.

Scientists say the solar storm is expected to arrive Thursday and will end Friday. The has the potential to shake up the earth's magnetic field, disrupting satellite and phone communication, including GPS devices.

"You could have a radio blackout," Guhathakurta said.

Air traffic may also experience some interruptions and flights may be rerouted.

NASA said this is the largest solar storm in five years. Joe Kunches of the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo., said the solar storm is expected to be a "G3" on the G1 to G5 scale.

NASA reports the solar flares and storms are a normal part of the sun's 11-year solar cycle, and the current cycle is expected to peak in late 2013. Kunches said the earth's solar system is in "season" for such storms and more will occur every month or two for the next few years.

While the storm may disrupt the earth's magnetic field, it will also enhance the aurora borealis, or northern lights, which is expected to peak Thursday night. Kunches said the lights will also occur across much of the northern portion of the United States. The lights will also be visible in portions of Oregon, Illinois and the Mid Atlantic states.

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