posted: 09 September 2005 - 10:33 pm ET
"An ongoing series of major solar flares, including one late Friday, could disrupt communications on Earth and generate colorful sky shows for people at high northern latitudes over the weekend.
Even more serious effects are possible next week.
The spate of activity from the Sun is being generated by a large sunspot named 798. Sunspots are cooler and darker regions of pent-up magnetic activity. When they unleash their energy, it's a bit like the top coming off a shaken champagne bottle.
Solar flares send radiation to Earth in about 8 minutes. Hours later, clouds of charged particles can engulf the planet. If the magnetic field of a storm is oriented in a certain way in relation to our planet's protective magnetic field, gaps are created and radiation leaks to the planet's surface, potentially threatening astronauts aboard the International Space Station, sometimes shorting out satellites, and even causing terrestrial power grids to trip.
Solar activity is at "very high levels," according to NOAA's Space Environment Center (SEC).
There have been five major flares in recent days,...."