Ask 2012 Solar Activity

DWB asks “You worked for NASA are we going to have chaos in 2012 from solar activity?”

OK this is kind of a long answer but it IS an answer and it is dead on the money.

Yes the Sun is expected to be in a period of high activity in 2012, it cycles in this activity increase and peaks every 11 years.  The last peak was in 2001 So in 2012 we are due. For those of you who remember during the last peak activity solar flares took out a power grid in Canada plunging a whole area into darkness.

These solar flares, called coronal mass ejections, are flung into space from sunspots, or large cool (relatively) areas on the sun.  They can contain massive amounts of energy in the form of charged particles that can wreak havoc with satellites and long high power electrical lines.  Matter of fact solar winds CAN blow our atmosphere into space, and we do need our atmosphere.

Luckily (or by design) we on earth have a shield from these solar winds and flares.  It is the magnetic field that surrounds the earth, thanks to our molten iron core that creates the magnetic field.  It deflects most of these charged solar particles.  Its weak points are at the North and South poles which is why you see the northern and southern lights…they result when these charged particles interact with the molecules in our ionosphere.

What you need to know is these solar flares do NOT radiate from the sun in a circular pattern, instead they are “flung out”  (at a VERY High speed) in a specific trajectory, so right there you can see that most of them are in no danger of colliding with earth.  First we only need be concerned with sunspots  along the equator of the sun, since earth orbits that equator, that also makes earth a moving target.  But sometimes a massive flare does happen and it does take a trajectory that intersects with earth and is strong enough that our magnetic field lets enough through that it can damage communications and such.

Enter our second line of defense. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration monitors these sunspots and when they detect a strong solar flare that is on a collision path with earth, they have a minimum of about 18 hours, usually its 3-4 days (depending on the speed the flare is approaching) to do something.  That something includes notifying those who may be affected.

Communications companies can fold in the solar collectors on satellites and put them into hibernation until the danger has passed. Power companies can reduce current in or shut down long distance power lines so that the added charges from the flare doesn’t overload the system.

So maybe some people are without power for a day or your sat phone or cable TV or GPS whatever goes out for a while.

BUT this is only if one of those sunspots lines up with earth AND flings out a solar flare that will intersect earths orbit, AND its a MASSIVE one.  The last really big one was in September of 1859.  People all over the Northern hemisphere witnessed the Northern lights and telegraph lines were destroyed.

So are we in any real danger?  No more so than we were in 2001 or 1990, or 1979 or 1968 or 1957 and so on.  truth is we are probably in less danger because now we know they are coming and when plus we have technology to effectively shunt these circuits and neutralize the excess charge.

It might be an inconvenience but on the unlikely chance it does happen it will likely be no more than an inconvenience for a few.

41650cookie-checkAsk 2012 Solar Activity

Ask 2012 Solar Activity

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