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Solar Storm Of The Century

What could be the storm of the century is brewing millions of miles out in space on the surface of the sun. And when the fiery explosions called "coronal mass ejections" reach Earth, they could wreak havoc on power and communications systems, reports CBS News Correspondent Sandra Hughes.

John Kappenman, a geomagnetic storm expert says, "It's somewhat similar to a very large hurricane hitting the North American continent all at the same time."

When the storm hits Earth, it could tear through the magnetic field, knock out power supplies and fry the insides of satellites. George Withbro, a NASA solar scientist says, "the force is equivalent to a billion megatons of TNT."

And if you've been worried about what Y2K, the millenium bug, will do to the nation's power grid, this could be worse. We're at the beginning of a peak sun-storm season that comes once every 11 years.

Last time, the sun belched out a coronal mass ejection so strong that it cremated the power system in Quebec, Canada. They went from full power to a complete blackout in just 90 seconds. A smaller storm was blamed for bringing down the Galaxy-4 satellite last year, turning some news transmissions to hash and knocking out pagers across the country.

NASA scientists Tuesday said they think they've found a way to predict these giant solar storms. A simple letter-S marks the spot of the super storm before it explodes. The S is called a sigmoid, a twisting of the sun's magnetic field.

Richard Canfield, a Montana State University physics professor says, "We have a tool here that we feel will be very useful in forecasting space weather."

Which means we may get a few days notice, but experts warn that a force like this may still be too much for our technology dependent society to prepare for.

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