There are solar flares – and then there are SOLAR FLARES!

There are solar flares – and then there are SOLAR FLARES!

Posted on 28. Aug, 2010 by in odd stuff, UK

On August 1st 2010 there was a Solar Eruption designated as a C3 – class solar flare. The flare leads to what is called a Coronal Mass Ejection or CME of up to ten billion tons of plasma and these CME’s move at speeds of up to a million miles an hour and reach the Earth in 2 – 4days. This one reached the Earth on August 3rd. As it hit the Earth’s magnetic field it created spectacular Auroral displays spreading from Europe to North America.

Solar flares happen all the time with yearly peaks in May(ish) and September(ish), in varying degrees. Quite often the peak discharges create no more than a spectacular light show, often they miss the earth completely or have little effect.

The Sun, however goes through a cycle of peaks and troughs lasting about 11 years. The last solar peak occurred in 2001. The Aug C3 2010 Flare is in the lead up to the next really big one in May (ish) 2013. Having said that a smaller flare directly hitting the earth can have a bigger impact, and light show, than a larger one that glances or misses the earth completely.

It is possible that the recent Aug C3 2010 Flare was the possible cause of the alteration in weather patterns over Europe and the possible accentuation of the Summer Monsoons in Pakistan with devastating effect.

When a CME hits the Earth it interacts with the magnetic field (magnetosphere) generated by the planet’s spinning molten iron core. This interaction channels the energetic particles from the solar flare, towards the poles, as they get concentrated at the poles they ionise the atmosphere causing the Northern and Southern Lights… the Aurora. The more energy from a flare that hits the Earth the larger the energy that runs along the magnetosphere.

The last big Solar Flare happened in the Victorian age when steam was in its heyday. Known as the Carrington Event, after its observer astronomer Richard Carrington, it occurred on the morning of September 1st, 1859. He observed a large eruption detach itself from the Sun’s surface. This was a cloud of charged plasma on its way… 48hrs it hit the Earth.

• The resulting Aurora was visible in the Tropics the intensity was such that people could read a newspaper at midnight, by the red and green light show.
• In California, a group of gold miners thinking that dawn had broken got out of bed to start work. It was 2am.
• Telegraph operators received severe electric shocks as solar-induced currents electrified transmission cables, and there are reports of fires of the telegraphic paper. Even more alarming when the batteries were disconnected messages were still being transmitted due to the Induced electric currents from the Aurora.

It’s this last point of the effect that a CME hitting the earth that is the most worrying.

In 1989 the CME that hit the earth caused induced electrical surges in power grids all over North America and northern Europe. In New Jersey a transformer at a nuclear power plant was destroyed and all power was knocked out in Quebec, Canada, some parts were blacked out for 9 hrs. In 1989 there were fewer satellites but those in the direct line suffered minor electronic problems.

In comparison of 1989 and 1859: it is calculated that the 89 event was only a third as powerful at the one back in Queen Victoria’s time.

As part of the 11 year cycle the May 2013 Solar eruption is expected to be as powerful, if not more so, as the 1859 eruption. Unlike then our world runs on electricity and electrical technology. The western world is criss-crossed with cables all capable of being affected by induced electricity.

Imagine - the consequences of every electricity pylon being struck by lightning at the same time.

Imagine a world without satellites and mobile phones

- the consequences of no electricity for weeks or months, to some of the most developed parts of the western world.

Strangely, it would probably be the third world countries that would cope best with a world without electricity as the west descends into chaos.

One day it will happen as part of the 11 year cycle although it might not be 2013, but a near miss scare might generate the impetus to build a more robust electricity system for 2024. What is almost guaranteed is that weather patterns will be disrupted what ever happens!

Another thing we can be certain of is a feeding frenzy from the press in the build up to 2013 with tales of disasters of biblical proportions that will probably cause more problems than any Solar Discharge….

Hopefully, it will all turn out to be another Millennium Bug anticlimax … THIS TIME WE MAY BE LUCKY!!!

Photographs and pictures from Wikipedia

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