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    Biggest solar storm in years arrives

    8:35 AM, Mar 8, 2012   |    comments
    Latest GOES Solar X-ray image from NOAA.
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    WASHINGTON (AP) - The National Weather Service's space weather prediction center says the largest solar storm in five years began hitting earth this morning.

    Officials say it arrived about 5:45 a.m., Eastern time, with the potential to shake the globe's magnetic field while expanding the Northern Lights.

    Scientists say the storm started with a massive solar flare earlier in the week and grew as it raced outward from the sun, expanding like a giant soap bubble.

    The massive cloud of charged particles could disrupt utility grids, airline flights, satellite networks and GPS services, especially in northern areas.

    Astronomers say the storm is part of the sun's normal 11-year cycle, which is supposed to reach peak storminess next year. Solar storms don't harm people, but they can disrupt technology.

    Officials say North American utilities are monitoring for abnormalities on their grids and have contingency plans.

    (Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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