27 April 2014

Solar Flare

Three days ago a flare went off. A relatively strong one. So called X class. The reason why that is a sort of a big deal is because Sun is going towards minimum of activity, and such flares are really rare during solar minimum.
I guess you heard a lot about the flares and their dangers. So, as someone who dealer with this kind of research for more than a decade, let me shortly say what is the fuss about.
from site Solar Monitor
Usually a strong flare as this one may cause CMI, a something called Coronal Mass Injection. Basically, Sun shoots up some plasma into the surrounding space. That mass travels through the solar system until it lose its energy or reaches end of it.
Sun was ejecting those CMI's so for a long time. It started doing so before we even appeared as species on this planet. And no one cared, because there was not too much of an effect. CMI's in past, when they hit the Earth, caused exceptionally beautiful Polar Lights. The stronger CMI, the stronger the lights were. So for those people who carried to stay up during the night, they will have a nice show to watch, and that was it. That's because Earth has a magnetic field that protects the life on it very well from most of solar and cosmic radiation.
Then we developed technology and started using electricity. And problems started appearing. You see, the strong CMI, when it hits the Earth can cause very strong geomagnetic storm. That basically means, that you get gorgeous polar lights. But, also, CMI causes electricity to appear inside the Earth crust itself, disturbance in Ionosphere, and disturbance in Van-Allen belts. This means that all our electronic get hit. Planes that fly over the poles have to be re-directed to a lower altitudes and every conductor on the planet starts producing extra electricity. So when really strong CMI hits we get blackouts.
That already happened at the beginning of 20-th century, when there was only small part of the Earth covered in conductors, and telegraphs. Both of those burned out, causing the damage and cessation of services for several months.
So if the strong CMI (i.e. Solar storm) hit us today there might be a significant damage.

There is another catch that makes all this a bit less straight forward. CMI has its own magnetic polarity. If that polarity is same as the polarity of the Earth magnetic field, then CMI just bounces off the Earth magnetic field. When the polarity is opposite, the storm will penetrate Earth magnetic field and make a mess with our electronic. And at the moment we do not know what is the polarity until the CMI hits the Earth.
Scientists are trying to make all this predictable, and slowly we learn more and more about all this solar activity, what is behind it, and how to predict what will happen. Right now, this prediction is at the same level as meteorology was before second world war.

If you wish to do something, to help, then, talk with your representative about increasing the budget for science, for NASA.  The sad fact is that the whole NASA budget for the last 50 years, including the whole Apollo program, was less than one of the bailouts recently given to the Wallstreet.

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