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NOAA TRACKING SPACE WEATHER EVENT

Image of the sun from the SOHO spacecraft of the intense solar activity on the sun taken Dec. 13, 2006, at 3:19 p.m. EST.Dec. 13, 2006 A significant geomagnetic storm is expected to impact the Earth beginning early Thursday afternoon around 1:00 p.m. Eastern time, according to forecasters at the NOAA Space Environment Center in Boulder, Colo. Impacts from this event can cause problems with High Frequency communications, satellite operations and induce currents in power grids. (Click image for larger view of the sun from the SOHO spacecraft of the intense solar activity on the sun taken Dec. 13, 2006, at 3:19 p.m. EST. Click here to view high resolution version. Click here to view latest images. Image courtesy of “SOHO.”)

This geomagnetic storm is the result of a strong radio blackout (R3 on the NOAA Space Weather Scales) with an associated moderate (S2) solar radiation storm that was observed by the NOAA space weather forecasters on Tuesday. Also, the SOHO/LASCO instrument observed a powerful and fast-moving coronal mass ejection directed toward Earth with this activity. LASCO (the Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph) is a set of three "coronagraph" telescopes onboard the SOHO (Solar & Heliospheric Observatory) satellite. This is a NASA and European Space Agency cooperative effort. Observations from this instrument are used by NOAA space weather forecasters.

“It is a rare occurrence to have a strong event like this so late in the Solar Cycle,” said NOAA Space Weather Forecaster Larry Combs. The NOAA Space Environment Center is monitoring current space weather activity levels and gathering critical real-time space weather data, using the data for the best forecasts and outlooks. SEC is advising its customers—such as NASA, commercial airlines and electric power grid operators—of conditions that directly impact their operation.

Combs added, “With the Space Shuttle in orbit and astronauts working on continued construction of the International Space Station, NASA is watching the activity with great interest. NASA officials said they did take precautions to avoid the effects of the radiation storm from the solar flare by having the astronauts aboard the International Space Station and shuttle Discovery sleep in protected areas of their respective spacecraft overnight.”

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 hour-a-day, seven days-a-week 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.

The NOAA Space Environment Center is the World Warning Agency of the International Space Environment Service, a consortium of eleven member nations. NOAA space weather forecasters use the data to predict solar and geomagnetic activity and issue worldwide alerts of extreme events. SEC plays a key role in support of the nation’s internal infrastructure in partnership with the Department of Defense and Homeland Security.

In 2007 NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. Starting with the establishment of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA. The agency is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA Space Environment Center

NOAA Primer on Space Weather

NOAA Space Weather Education/Outreach

NOAA Space Weather Scales

Media Contact:
Greg Romano, NOAA National Weather Service, (301) 713-0622