Sunday night, a blast from the surface of the sun sent a radiation cloud into the solar system. The brunt of the blast, which is the largest since 2005, will likely begin affecting earth Tuesday morning, according to Antti Pulkkinen, a research associate at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
Although the radiation doesn't pose any direct health threats to humans on earth, it can still wreak havoc on devices that use radio frequencies. Pulkkinen says that things should return to normal within three days, as long as there are no further blasts.
"It's been many years since we've seen so much radiation in space," he says. Here are four things that could be affected by the sun's blast:
Power Grids - In 1989, a solar storm cut off power for more than nine hours in much of Quebec, Canada. "Power outages are a possibility," says Pulkkinen. The extra electric currents from the radiation can cause the outages.
GPS Satellites - Radiation from the solar storm can completely cut off GPS communication in certain parts of the world. Pulkkinen says the radiation "prevents the walking of GPS space signals," which can "prevent you from getting any kind of reception."
Air Travel Communications - Although no flights have been grounded yet, the solar storm will interrupt airline communication and navigation systems, especially on flights over the North and South Poles—which include many flights between North America and Asia. "The polar regions are especially exposed to problems," Pulkkinen says.
The International Space Station - Although the radiation poses no direct threat to human health on earth, Pulkinnen says astronauts on the International Space Station have been in close communication with NASA. "They've been in discussions [with NASA officials on earth] to see if they need to be placed in a shelter on the station—with thicker walls, so to speak," Pulkkinen says. "These radiation storms are a concern for humans in space."