Weather Gadgets

March 11, 2011

WeatherWise -- Upcoming Solar Storms Could Grind High-Tech to a Halt

january2011northernlightsnorway.jpg

We all know solar power is a good thing, and like most things, best in moderation. Just a few weeks ago on this past Valentine's Day, the sun erupted with the largest solar flare seen in four years--powerful enough to interfere with Earth radio communications and GPS signals for airplanes on long-distance flights.

As solar storms go, this flare was relatively modest. But, according to Nat Geo -- What If the Biggest Solar Storm on Record Happened Today? the burst of activity is only the start of the upcoming solar maximum (the period of greatest solar activity in the solar cycle of the sun) due to start in 2012.

The biggest solar storm on record, called the Carrington Event, occurred in 1859 during a solar maximum about the same size as the one we're entering.

During the Carrington Event, northern lights were reported as far south as Cuba and Honolulu, while southern lights were seen as far north as Santiago, Chile. The flares were so powerful that "people in the northeastern U.S. could read newspaper print just from the light of the aurora," Daniel Baker, of the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, said at a geophysics meeting last December.
How would we be affected today in 2011? Powerful solar flares could knock out our GPS services (cell phones, airplanes, and automobiles), satellite communications (TV, credit cards) and electrical grid (power surges blowing out our giant transformers.)

solarstormbk.jpg For more information, read Nat Geo -- What If the Biggest Solar Storm on Record Happened Today? and check out Solar Storms: The darker side of the sun by Lydia D. Thomson - Smith, just published February 23, 2011.

Photo: Solar Storms Light Up Arctic Night--NatGeo

Read More in: General News | Solar Radiation

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