Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Solar storms make it to Earth

Auroras over Lake Superior
Photograph courtesy Shawn Malone,

Solar Storms Have Arrived.
By Sunny Williams

As predicted, solar storms began erupting from our Sun at the end of July, the first ones felt by Earth on August 1st, 3rd and 10th, 2010.  Not much occurred, except brilliant Aurora Borealis displays.  A few isolated power outages occurred but what can we expect as the solar storms grow in intensity?

The sun's eruption, which sends massive amounts of plasma and ionized atoms into space, is called a coronal mass ejection.  As a coronal mass ejection (solar storm) reaches Earth, it makes contact with our planet's magnetic field, creating a geomagnetic storm.  These Solar particles smash into atoms of nitrogen and oxygen in our atmosphere, causing a neon-like glow, the Aurora Borealis, that shimmering curtain of color seen in polar regions.

NASA talks about Solar Storms of 2010/2011

Video Link

Fairly predictable, the sun's activity ebbs and flows in a cycle that lasts approximately 11 years. It takes about 5.5 years for a move from a solar minimum (few sunspots), to peak it's at solar maximum, (amplified sunspot activity).

The last solar maximum which occurred in 2001, was fairly weak and long-lasting but recent solar eruptions are the first signs that our sun is gearing up towards another maximum.

'The Carrington flare', the Great Solar Storm of 1859, was the largest single solar eruption from a sunspot in recorded solar observation history.  It burned telegraph wires all across Europe and America as Aororas lit the skies in so many areas of the world, that many people started their days in the middle of night.

With a mass eruption like that, what would we have to contend with today? 

With an eruption of that magnitude, all communications, computers, transportation systems and electric grids (which serve billions of people), could be shut down for days, weeks, even months.  It all depends on the size of a flare eruption ejected from a sunspot. This could effectively send us back to the stoneage, if only briefly. 

Many could suffer and die from lack of health equipment, air conditioning, heating and transportation.  Our banking systems would come to a standstill. 

Perhaps a few of the orbiting satellites could be powered down in time, however, the electric grids would probably be severely damaged. Unshielded, the magnetic field could cause computers and servers to crash.

All I can add is, be prepared.  Or ride it out like the rest of us, because you won't get more than a few hours notice.

I knew I should have built an underground bunker...


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