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It may seem like science fiction scenario, but it is not. Solar storms pose a threat to critical infrastructure such as satellite communications, navigation systems and electrical transmission equipment.

The intensity of solar storms should peak in 2013 and countries should prepare for “potentially devastating effects,” said U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Assistant Secretary Kathryn Sullivan.

Solar storms release particles that can temporarily disable or permanently destroy fragile computer circuits.

Sullivan, a former NASA astronaut who in 1984 became the first woman to walk in space, told a U.N. weather conference in Geneva “it is not a question of if, but really a matter of when a major solar event could hit our planet.”

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The chances of a disruption from space are getting stronger because the Sun is entering the most active period of its 11 to 12-year natural cycle.

The world witnessed the Sun’s explosive power in February when the strongest solar eruption in five years sent a torrent of charged plasma hurtling toward the world at 580 miles per second. The storm ended up disrupting radio communications.

Space storms are not new. British astronomer Richard Carrington recorded the first major solar flare in 1859.

Other solar geomagnetic storms have hit in recent decades. One huge solar flare in 1972 cut off long-distance telephone communication in the mid-western state of Illinois, NASA officials said.

Another similar flare in 1989 “provoked geomagnetic storms that disrupted electric power transmission” and caused blackouts across the Canadian province of Quebec, NASA said.

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