Wed 7 Mar 2012
The first time we got hit by one of these bad boys that we know of in the 1870s, the telegraph operators here in the US had to disconnect their batteries to prevent the batteries from catching fire. Yet the telegraph system still worked without their power. But for the major utility companies (eg. telecoms, electrical, water, natural gas etc.) this is a big deal and that is what we have been talking about here.
A pair of scorching explosions on the Sun’s surface is sparking the biggest radiation and geomagnetic storm the Earth has experienced in five years, space weather experts said Wednesday.
The full brunt of the storm is expected to hit Earth early Thursday US time and last through Friday, potentially disrupting power grids, GPS systems, satellites, and forcing airplanes to change their routes around the polar regions.
“Space weather has gotten very interesting over the past 24 hours,” said Joseph Kunches, a space weather scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The fuss began late Sunday at an active region on the Sun known as 1429, with a big solar flare that was associated with a burst of solar wind and plasma known as a coronal mass ejection that hurtled in Earth’s direction at some four million miles per hour (6.4 million kilometers per hour).
Another solar flare and CME followed at 0024 GMT on March 7, setting off a strong geomagnetic and solar radiation storm, both at level three on a five-step scale.
NASA said the second flare — classified in the potent X class — was one of the largest of this cycle known as the solar minimum which began in early 2007, and fell in just behind slightly stronger one which erupted in August.
“The current increase in the number of X-class flares is part of the sun’s normal 11-year solar cycle, during which activity on the sun ramps up to solar maximum, which is expected to peak in late 2013,” the US space agency said.
The solar flares alone caused brief high frequency radio blackouts that have now passed, according to NOAA.
But the ensuing space storm will likely give nighttime viewers in Central Asia a prime look at the aurora borealis, or northern lights, on Thursday night, in addition to possibly garbling some of Earthlings’ most prized gadgets, Kunches said.
The storm is likely “the strongest one since December 2006,” Kunches said, noting, however, that the Earth experienced a stronger radio blackout last August.
“But en masse, if you put it all together with the geomagnetic effects and the solar radiation effects, I would put it on par with one at the end of the last solar cycle which was over five years ago.”
Go there and read. Google for additional solar flare information. More tomorrow.