For the past five days, forecasters at the NOAA Space Environment Center in
Boulder, Colo., have observed all types of space weather: radio blackouts, solar
radiation storms and geomagnetic storms. Currently, space weather forecasters
are observing a moderate geomagnetic storm (G-2 on the NOAA Space Weather
Scales) and a minor (S-1) solar radiation storm. Earlier Wednesday an X-class
flare produced a strong (R-3) radio blackout. (Click here for larger view of
the sun taken on Jan. 19, 2005, at 2:19 p.m. EST. Click here for high resolution
version, which is a large file. Please credit European Space Agency-NASA.)

According to NOAA space weather forecaster Bill Murtagh, “NOAA sunspot Region
720 emerged rapidly from a small single sunspot on January 12 to become a very
large and complex sunspot cluster on January 14. Several major flares have
occurred since January 15. A strong, S-3, radiation storm and several periods of
strong, G-3, geomagnetic storming occurred due to these solar eruptions.”

Murtagh added, “This activity is occurring almost five years past the solar
maximum (April 2000). This activity is significant. However, it is considerably
less intense than the activity observed during the “Halloween Storms” of 2003.
Fewer sunspots are observed during this stage of the solar cycle, but sporadic
large clusters are expected in the waning stages of the cycle. In fact, intense
late cycle activity was also observed in the late stages of Cycle 17 and Cycle 20.”

NOAA notifies customers of a wide range of space environment conditions. Due to
the assortment of space weather events over the past week, all sectors
vulnerable to hazardous space weather may feel the effects of the recent
activity. These include airline and spacecraft operations, electric power
systems, navigation, satellites and communications systems. NOAA received
reports of impacts on various communications systems.

Forecasters indicate strong, R-3, solar flares are possible for the next three
to four days. Region 720 will rotate to the far side of the Sun on January 22,
and significant flare activity is expected to end. The radiation storm in
progress now is declining and, barring another major flare, should end in two to
three days. Moderate (G-2) to strong (G-3) geomagnetic storm levels are expected
over the next two days.

The NOAA Space Environment Center, one of the NOAA National Centers for
Environmental Prediction, is home to the nation’s early warning system for solar
activities that directly affect people and equipment on Earth and in space.
SEC’s 24/7 operations are critical in protecting space and ground-based assets.
Through the SEC, NOAA and the U.S. Air Force jointly operate the space weather
operations center that continuously monitors, analyzes and forecasts the
environment between the sun and Earth. In addition to the data gathered from
NOAA and NASA satellites, the center receives real-time solar and geophysical
information from ground based-observatories around the world. NOAA space weather
forecasters use the data to predict solar and geomagnetic activity and issue
worldwide alerts of extreme events.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the
prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing
environmental stewardship of the nation’s coastal and marine resources. NOAA is
part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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