Astronomy Magazine

Massive Solar Flare to Hit Earth! Should We Be Worried?

Posted on the 08 March 2012 by Periscope
Massive solar flare to hit Earth! Should we be worried?

Plasma spray from the sun; you pay extra for that. Photo credit: Chris Christner

It’s not quite armageddon – yet. A couple of enormous solar flares, known as coronal mass ejections, have triggered what will be the biggest solar storm in five years. It’s expected to last from Thursday morning till Friday morning. Charged particles will whack the Earth at 4,000,000 miles per hour. Some people are worried – in 1972 a solar flare cut off telephone networks in Illinois, reported the BBC. Periscope’s looked into these storms before – in 1989 the power grid was taken out in Quebec, Canada.

Nasa solar physicist Alex Young said, quoted on The Guardian: “It could give us a bit of a jolt.”

What does it mean? The BBC reported that it would be most intense around polar regions. It would also mean that you might be able to see the northern lights at lower latitudes than usual – only if the skies are clear, naturally. In the UK, we can see them best on Thursday night. Though Gemma Plumb, a forecaster for Metogroup, told The Guardian that it was likely to be cloudly.

Who else is at risk? Energy suppliers and airlines are the most likely to be affected, and, reported The Guardian, are on high alert. There might also be radio blackouts; satellites might be troubled, as well as oil pipelines and GPS systems.

Here comes the science bit. The solar flare rocketing our weigh comes in at X5.4 on the solar flare scale (yes, there is one.) It came, said The Register, from Active Region 1429. The flares are classified according to the energy of X-rays, and hit the Earth measured in watts per square meter. The X5.4 rating means that it’s the second most powerful flare to hit the Earth since … 2007. We were hit by an X.9 in 2006. So we’ve seen this before. The sun is in an active period, so this sort of activity is expected to continue till 2013.

So it’s not that bad? Not unless you’re piloting an aircraft over the North Pole. Looks like it might be a nice time to take a romantic stroll and watch the Northern Lights. That is, if it’s not too cloudy. Curse you, British weather!


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