While most of us were busily counting sheep or howling at the nearly-full moon last night, plasma and charged particles produced by Tuesday night's massive solar flares were hurtling toward the planet at 4 million mph, reports Space.com. This material, the largest coronal mass ejection (CME) in five years, hit the Earth around 5:45am ET, and could cause disruptions to utility grids, satellite and GPS networks, and airline flights around the poles throughout the day; it could also greatly expand the Northern Lights. "It's hitting us right in the nose," says a NOAA scientist.
"There is the potential for induced currents in power grids," he continues. "Power grid operators have all been alerted. It could start to cause some unwanted induced currents." This CME, which another scientist calls "a good-size event, but not the extreme type," is a normal piece of the sun's 11-year cycle, which the AP notes is set to peak in terms of storminess next year. The last peak, in 2002, exposed vulnerabilities in GPS technology, and this round of solar activity could likewise find Achilles' heels in newer technologies. (Read more solar storm stories.)