Solar flare

A solar flare erupts from the sun July 12. (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / July 12, 2012)

A strong solar flare blasted toward the Earth on Thursday and has sent a burst of powerful radiation toward us, potentially causing disruptions in radio and navigation technology.

The flare occured about 12:50 p.m. in an area of the sun known as Active Region 1520.

Some interference with high-frequency radios and navigation systems was reported earlier this afternoon, said Joe Kunches, spokesman for the National Weather Service's Space Weather Prediction Center. And more disruptions could be on the way, with what is known as a coronal mass ejection headed toward Earth by about 1 a.m. Saturday.

Space weather forecasters have only been able to make limited observations of the event, so more details on the size and impact will become more clear later. So far, it appears that the coronal mass ejection is not particularly strong, so it is not expected to impact the power grid, GPS systems or other satellite communication, Kunches said. But it is coming directly toward Earth.

"It's not a glancing blow," Kunches said. "We expect it to be a pretty good hit from this one."

One side effect could be that the coronal mass ejection, a burst of solar wind that carry massive quantities of matter and electromagnetic radiation into space, could create some extraordinary shows of the aurora borealis, or "Northern Lights."

The Advanced Composition Explorer satellite, or ACE, will detect the solar winds as they near the planet Saturday night, giving a clearer picture of their strength only about 20-45 minutes ahead of the coronal mass ejection's arrival.

More hazards could be ahead. The region of the sun from which the flare came "appears to have retained its ability to erupt, so watch for more," the space weather center cautions.

For more on space weather, check out this Sun article from last month on an expected flurry of solar flares over the next year.

Have a weather question? E-mail me at sdance@baltsun.com or tweet to @MdWeather.