Strongest Solar Flare Since 2003 Impacts Earth
By: Ryan Matthew Dernick
Seasoned astronomers and leisurely sky watchers near the city of Tromsø in northern Norway got a spectacular geomagnetic light show this Tuesday night. On Jan.24, 2012 a powerful M-9 class solar storm led to a dramatic display of the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights. The northern lights even illuminated the skies above Scotland, northern England and northern parts of Ireland. More light shows are expected in the next few days. The northern lights are sometimes seen from northern Scotland but they were also visible Monday night from northeast England and Ireland, where such occurrences are more infrequent
In the Southern Hemisphere these beautiful light shows are referred to as the aurora australis near Antarctica or the Southern Lights.
Amazingly, according to the Solar Dynamical Observatory (SDO) This specific solar flare was ejected off the surface of the sun toward earth on Jan 23,2012 at a speed of 632 kilometers per second. That means the solar storm traveled 91 million miles from the surface of the sun to our home planet of earth in a little over 24 hours. This is only days since the prevoius Jan.19-21 solar storm with subsequent geomagnetic effects here on earth.
In today’s solar terrestrial activity report the Solar Dynamical Observatory (SDO) reported:
The geomagnetic field was quiet to major storm on January 24. Solar wind speed ranged between 347 and 732 km/s. A strong solar wind shock was observed at SOHO at 14:34 UTC, the arrival of the CMEs observed early on January 23. The geomagnetic disturbance peaked 17-20h UTC when the planetary A index reached 80. The radiation storm peaked at the arrival of the CMEs with the above 10 MeV proton flux reaching a high of 6310 pfu, the strongest radiation event since 2003.
The Solar Dynamical Observatory was launched in February 2010. The intention of the deployment of the SDO orbiting coronal observatory was to determine if it is possible to make reliable space weather forecasts. The SDO performs this technological space forecasting feat by observing the solar atmosphere in several wavelengths. These wavelengths consist of radio waves, microwaves, infrared waves, x-rays and gamma rays.
To gauge if the solar flare is a threat scientists determine this by the polarity or angle of approach toward the Earth with a southern polarity being the most detrimental. In the case of the M-class flare affecting us currently it has a southern polarity. This can lead to major disruption of Earth’s magnetosphere by way of geomagnetic storming. A geomagnetic storm is the subsequent effect of a solar wind shockwave, or solar magnetic field that interacts with Earth’s magnetic field. These solar storms can wreak havoc on communication systems, global positioning systems, satellites, land power grids and even the biology of plants and animals.
According to the Space Weather Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “There is a growing body of evidence that changes in the geomagnetic field affect biological systems. Studies indicate that physically stressed human biological systems may respond to fluctuations in the geomagnetic field.”
If this isn’t enough, recently in a television interview, doctor of theoretical physics Michio Kaku warned of increased solar activity in 2012 through 2013. He said
“In 1859 we had a gigantic solar storm which knocked out telegraph wires back then, 150 years ago. If that had happened today it would knock out almost all our satellites and power stations. There would be food riots from lack of refrigeration .Airplanes would crash with the lack of radar and guidance systems. Damage estimates tally the natural disaster from the sun at an incredible 2 trillion dollars. This is a once in a century one in two century storm. We would be thrown back a hundred years.”
Over a year ago Michio Kaku asked congress for a 100 million dollar infrastructure safety prevention Bill that would have protected our solar storm susceptible world but Congress unfortunately turned down the Bill. Solar Cycle 24 does not bode well for our very vulnerable technologically based society. Whether it’s preparing for the possibility of power outages during severe weather like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods or winter weather severe solar storms should be treated no differently. Have a general preparedness plan in place for you and your loved ones at all times.