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coronal mass ejection


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The third most-powerful solar flare ever observed in X-ray wavelengths erupted from Sunspot 486 early October 28, 2003, at approximately 6 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. A coronal mass ejection (CME) directed almost straight at Earth preceded the flare, sending electrically charged gas toward our planet, say NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) scientists. To follow up, the same spot released a large X11 flare Wednesday afternoon and it too is associated with a CME.
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The flare sent X-rays traveling at the speed of light toward Earth. The X-rays caused a radio storm in the ionosphere during the morning and early afternoon of October 28, 2003, according to NOAA's Space Environment Center (SEC). The CME will not arrive at Earth until approximately noon Wednesday. NOAA uses NASA satellite data to make space weather predictions, much as they use NASA satellite data for Earth weather predictions. The Federal Aviation Administration and Air Force use NOAA SEC information to plan flight paths, as airplanes can experience increased radiation during the arrival of a CME.

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The CME's ionized particles could interfere with power grids and satellite operations depending on the orientation of its magnetic field. If the field points south, the CME particles will interact with Earth's magnetosphere and likely disrupt electrical processes; if it points north, the magnetosphere should mostly shield the Earth from disruptions. Scientists will be unable to determine the orientation until the CME reaches the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satellite in Earth orbit. This won't happen until only 15 minutes before the CME reaches Earth.

Space Weather Alerts and Warnings