Solar Storm 2012: Solar flares improve chances to see northern lights

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    Solar Storm or Solar flares, first of its kind in 2012 forecast has improved chances to see northern lights. Sky watchers couldn’t have been happier

    If this week’s raging solar storm was any indication, the sun is ramping up its activity — and scientists will be ready for it. By meticulously studying our planet’s star, they are able to predict these potentially dangerous space weather events better than ever before.

    On January 23, a solar flare occurred as predicted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center. It sent out a burst of charged particles called a coronal mass ejection (CME). The CME was large enough to trigger a big geomagnetic storm in the earth’s atmosphere, affecting radio communication, air flight schedules, communication, and power outages.

    The forecast made by the scientists of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center about the flare was off by 13 minutes. This was a relatively better prediction of the time than previous flares as scientists had access to better technologies to predict the solar flares and intensity of the flares.

    As per the scientists, the sun undergoes cycles of high and low solar radiation. We are at the beginning of a peak of a solar flare. These 11-year cycles of powerful electromagnetic activity are marked by powerful sunspot regions on the surface. This moment this activity is shifting from a “sunspot minimum” time to a peak in solar activity. This high intensity solar ejection will continue for some years – the duration until which the peak stays.

    The exact prediction of solar flares has become more important in our age as much of the world’s networks are interconnected and the population has become increasingly reliant on technology that use satellite communication. Solar flares hamper satellite communication due to the geomagnetic storm stirred up by the flares, so being pre-informed is of paramount importance.

    Strong flares as this one can disrupt satellite communication. Even weaker flares interfare with earth’s magnetic field and cause brilliant auroras that are more popularly called the Norther and Southern Lights.

    Harlan Spence, an astrophysicist at the University of New Hampshire informed about the flares and its effect, “There was a major event back in 1989 that led to a major power failure in Quebec that had broad implications for the province. Because the world has highly connected power grids, the effects of that particular geomagnetic storm were also felt through many parts of the continental U.S.”

    Since yesterday’s burst of CME was rather at an angle with earth, so most of it just glanced past the northern poles, causing a brilliant aurora that was visible not only in the usual places in Iceland, Scotland and Greenland, but also in Britain. It did not hamper satellite and radio communication much, but some airlines took the precaution to divert flights with polar routes.

    Doug Biesecker, a physicist at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, said, “This is typical with space weather, but what I have heard is some science instruments and spacecraft saw increases in single-event upsets. Some instruments were returning bad data, but this is the sort of thing they can handle. Some power grids did hear reports on fluctuations, but I don’t have specifics on which grids and where they were.”

    The website of the Space Weather Prediction Centre ran this update, “After the arrival of a CME yesterday and the subsequent activity which ensued, conditions are now beginning to trend back towards a return to quiet.”

    2 COMMENTS

    1. The lights are more unusual in color, magnitude, and in scope because of the high atomic weight Fukushima Fallout in the atmosphere. Post Fukushima such lights are no longer a treat. In fact they are the harbingers of the creation of a whole new witches’ brew of radioactive Fukushima related fallout.

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