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Biggest Solar Storm Since 2005 to Peak Tuesday

WASHINGTON - On the heels of a solar storm that delivered a glancing blow over the weekend, the sun released an even more energetic blast of radiation and charged plasma overnight that could disrupt GPS signals and the electrical grid today, especially at high latitudes, space weather researchers warned yesterday.

Already, the storm could be disrupting satellite communications as streams of radiation from the sun bounce across the Earth’s magnetic field, which extends into space.

“With the radiation storm in progress now, satellite operators could be experiencing trouble, and there are probably impacts as well to high-frequency [radio] communications in polar regions,’’ said Doug Biesecker, a physicist at the Space Weather Prediction Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colo.

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Such radio blackouts can force airlines to reroute flights between North America and Europe or Asia.

The solar storm is the biggest since 2005, Biesecker said.

The storm is to peak today when a speeding cloud of plasma and charged particles blasts past the earth, distorting the planet’s magnetic field with effects possibly ranging as far south in latitude as Texas and Arizona.

Predictions from NASA scientists show the storm peaking about 9 a.m. today, although uncertainty means the storm could peak up to seven hours earlier or later, said Michael Hesse of NASA’s Space Weather Laboratory in Greenbelt, Md.