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Huge solar flares hit far-flung craft

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7:42pm, May 30, 2004

From Montreal, at a joint meeting of the American and Canadian Geophysical Unions

Spacecraft distributed throughout the solar system, including one launched more than a quarter-century ago and now billions of kilometers from Earth, have detected material spewed into space by a spate of huge solar flares late last year.

In October 2003, large, chaotic regions of magnetic activity on the sun began triggering what became a series of at least 60 solar flares, says Nat Gopalswamy of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The active regions, known as sunspots, covered about 0.6 percent of the sun's face. Four of the flares that erupted from these areas are among the strongest ever recorded.

Early salvos in the solar barrage disrupted as many as 20 satellites in Earth orbit and totally disabled at least one of them. Strong magnetic fields associated with some of the flares caused a major power outage in southern Sweden and stifled high-frequency ra

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