WASHINGTON – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has confirmed the most powerful solar storm on our sun since 2005. The height of the resulting barrage of charged particles triggered by the solar flare is expected to last from early Tuesday, January 24 through Wednesday January 25.
There are numerous solar storms of varying intensity but this may mark the beginning of a series of solar super-storms. The sun is nearing the height of a predictable 11 year cycle. That cycle will culminate with its greatest solar activity between March and December 2012.
An alert from SpaceWeather.com warns, “”There is little doubt that the cloud is heading in the general direction of Earth. A preliminary inspection of SOHO/STEREO imagery suggests that the CME will deliver a strong glancing blow to Earth’s magnetic field on Jan. 24-25 as it sails mostly north of our planet.”
Solar flares have received increasing scrutiny over the years due to potential damage from what are called CMSs (coronal mass ejections). Coronal mass ejections are closely studied because they can produce potentially harmful geomagnetic storms when electrically charged particles from the sun interact with Earth’s magnetic field.
Many scientists are warning the sun is reaching a level of activity unseen in the modern electronic era. Our only frame of reference for such an event is the last recorded Solar Maximus of this level on September 1, 1859.
Numerous sunspots occurred on August 28 with solar flares occurring from August 28 to September 2. On September 1, the sun released an immense coronal mass ejection (CME). Hours later, telegraph wires in both the United States and Europe spontaneously shorted out, resulting in numerous fires. Auroras were seen as far south as Rome and Hawaii. The 1859 Event was a combination of three factors. The CME was extraordinarily fast; the magnetic fields were extremely intense; the magnetic fields were in direct opposition to Earth’s magnetic fields. This combination overwhelmed the Earth’s magnetic field, allowing charged particles to penetrate into Earth’s upper atmosphere; thus creating the havoc.
This cycle of solar activity may or may not be as intense as the one in 1859. But, one major factor makes this one much more troublesome. The worst event that could have occurred in the last century was what did – telegraph lines downed for short periods of time. A similar event occurring now could be near catastrophic.
Power grids are exceptionally vulnerable. What most people don’t realize is that a power plant requires an enormous amount of power to go online. A regional temporary interruption of power can quickly cascade into widespread chaos. A direct hit from a high level coronal mass ejection could throw North America’s power grid off line for weeks, months, or even years.
Vulnerable circuit boards and microchips are everywhere. Medical equipment, electronically dependent nuclear power plants, and most vehicles (land, sea, and air) are laden with microchips. In fact, most of our civilization’s entire infrastructure is one huge integrated circuit.