Brian Vastag
Washington Post
January 21, 2012

A huge sunspot unleashed a blob of charged plasma Thursday that space weather watchers predict will blast past the Earth on Sunday. Satellite operators and power companies are keeping a close eye on the incoming cloud, which could distort the Earth’s magnetic field and disrupt radio communications, especially at higher latitudes.

“Our simulations show potential to pack a good punch to Earth’s near-space environment,” said Antti Pulkkinen of the Space Weather Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.

… “At first glance, it was, ‘Oh my God, it’s at the center of the [sun’s] disk, it ought to go right to the Earth,’ ” Kunches said. But upon further review and “head-scratching” Thursday, NOAA’s space weather team calculated that most of the plasma blob should pass harmlessly over the top of our planet.

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