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Canada feels mild effects from solar storm

MONTREAL - Our planet will continue to be bombarded by radiation from a solar storm through Wednesday but it shouldn't cause any immediate problems for cellphone users or air travellers.

MONTREAL - Our planet will continue to be bombarded by radiation from a solar storm through Wednesday but it shouldn't cause any immediate problems for cellphone users or air travellers.

A research scientist at the Canadian Space Agency says the impact from the solar flares is actually quite mild — for now.

Some space weather observers describe it as the strongest in more than six years but John Manuel, an expert in solar-terrestrial sciences, says it's currently at the bottom end of the scale.

"This space weather event is a relatively small one as they go," Manuel said on Tuesday. "The last significant one was about seven years ago."

He said there is a possibility of some disruption of communication in the Arctic and the solar flares may have a "weak" impact on some power grids.

But Manuel said it won't be anything like 1989 when a solar flare caused a massive power blackout in Quebec.

He said the current solar flareups may lead to more spectacular northern lights in the Northwest Territories. Manuel says Edmonton and Winnipeg will probably enjoy some aurora borealis sky works as well.

He added that cities further south, like Toronto and Montreal, might also get lucky.

But he also offered a heads-up, saying the sun is going become even more active in the next year or so.

"At the moment, we're ramping up to a maximum of activity which is expected in 2013," Manuel said.

"We are probably one-third of the way up to solar maximum, so the last two-thirds will occur over the next year and a half — if the forecasts are right."

At the top end of the scale, solar flares can cause "significant problems with power systems and may even damage spacecraft."

Manuel says radio waves that are used to communicate with planes as they cross the North and South poles could also be disrupted.

In that event, airplanes would have to change their flight paths in order to stay in communication with the ground.

Major solar activity could also affect cellphones, which has happened in the past.

"The peak will be in the summer of 2013 — but then it will still be pretty busy for the next year or so after that," Manuel said.

"So there's a good chance of some extraordinary storms in the next couple of years."

Manuel said the chances of having a big solar storm are continually increasing and he admitted that, like hurricanes, they are hard to predict.

"This storm just appeared about three days ago."

NASA says the sun erupted late Sunday and sent what's described as a coronal mass ejection — plasma from the sun itself — in Earth's direction.

The government website Space Weather Canada issued a storm advisory for the polar region on Tuesday, which meant there was a slight possibility of some disruption of communications.

 
 
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