Solar explosions could impact Earth
August 9th, 2011
11:36 AM ET

Solar explosions could impact Earth

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is keeping an eye on a set of solar storms and explosions that could disrupt satellite, telecommunications and electric equipment here on Earth in the next few days.

While activity had reportedly returned to somewhat normal levels when solar winds calmed Monday morning, another explosion Tuesday was three times larger than the February 15 flare, which, until now, was the most significant flare of this solar cycle.

Solar flare may disrupt your GPS

The real forecast worth taking a look at, however, is the one for 2013, when solar activity levels are expected to peak with the next "solar maximum" within the 11-year activity cycle. Electric and magnetic interference from solar storms blasting electrically charged particles into the Earth’s magnetic field can cause major interferences on earth. Already this year, there have been reports of lost high-frequency radio communication with aircraft near the Arctic, along flight paths where pilots depend on such communication for flight safety and guidance.

Pilots and commercial aircraft are not the only ones at risk, either. NOAA cautions that many systems humans use every day are vulnerable to changes in space weather, including GPS applications in mobile phones and in cars, power grids and military satellites.

“We now know how powerful space weather can be and how events that begin on the surface of the Sun can end up wreaking havoc here on Earth,” said Tom Bogdan, SWPC director in Boulder, Colorado. “This is why NOAA has a Space Weather Prediction Center — to forecast when space weather is coming our way, so we can avoid or mitigate damages.”

People in 1859 didn’t have that advantage though, when a solar eruption essentially charged the air on Earth with electricity, taking out telegraph offices across the globe. Some telegraph operators received electric shocks and papers within offices caught fire. The interference even caused telegraph equipment to continue distributing signals once the equipment had been turned off. According to a 2008 report by the National Research Council, an eruption of comparable magnitude today could cause $1 trillion to $2 trillion in damage worldwide.

NOAA officials are working closely with Britain on developing an updated facility to improve forecasting abilities and our understanding of how weather, in space or on Earth, can affect technology systems.

soundoff (468 Responses)
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  9. minisheree32

    omg i feel spacial because i knew about this before reading the article or hearing it on any type of news or anything.( i am only 14) and i learned it in school! imagine that!

    August 11, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  10. nemo

    Post script....
    There is nothing...not a darn whisper of a hint in our constitution of these united states that says we need or want a sun! The planet sun..and its inhabitants royed roy (echo). Since jesus walked on the moon..the sun has just been one problem after the next!

    August 10, 2011 at 3:36 am |
    • Wzrd1

      Jesus didn't walk on the moon. Neil did. Jesus delegated it to me and I delegated it to Neil...
      Hope I don't catch hell for that one.

      August 11, 2011 at 1:15 am |
  11. nemo

    The sun has been terrorizing the u.s.a for centuries..and we as Americans need to come together to destroy this evil threat! The people of the sun have been doing this hanky panky to long and its time we declare war and invade. I am so sick of the sun anyway...always shinning all day and not to mention all the preservatives and asbestos it releases into our airspace! What use is the sun anyway? I mean at least you can look at the moon for pete's sake! Ever try and look at the sun? Burn a hole in your septic nerve that goes to the brain! Can't go outside anymore cuz the sun will give you melanoma! I just don't know why we sent all those people into space for hundreds of years and we never did a dang thing about the sun! Now its going to crash into earth and make my gps on my car not he!!...I can't live without my gps. This is such a no brainer..if the sun invades the u.s. Airspace I say we blow it out of the sky and be done with it...the sun has always been a is the time to fix it! I say send in the marines and just get rid of the sun and all the people living on it...just the way things are gonna have to be..VOTE NEMO 2012

    August 10, 2011 at 3:07 am |
    • Wzrd1

      We ALL support you!
      Now, go lead the way for the team that lands on the sun and plants that thermonuclear bomb to destroy it.

      August 11, 2011 at 1:19 am |
  12. sunspot

    it's so very plan to see everyone go outside and stare at the sun for 10 to 20 min. and you will see the solar flares. lol

    August 10, 2011 at 3:03 am |
    • Wzrd1

      It's so plan to see?
      English as a second language isn't working out for you, huh?
      Very well, hide your mind from FACTS. OBEY GPS when it fails, cliffs abound, hopefully you'll find one.

      August 11, 2011 at 1:18 am |
  13. Eric

    This article doesn't even tap into the damage that would be caused to our nuclear power plants – the threat is far worse than a few inconveniences.

    August 10, 2011 at 2:02 am |
    • Wzrd1

      Yeah, because FUEL would CEASE to exist IMMEDIATELY.
      There ARE such things as diesel generators. They're in ALL PLANTS. FUEL is there too. MORE fuel is planned by 9 different means.

      August 11, 2011 at 1:17 am |
  14. Cherries

    All right everyone, lets PANIC!!!!

    August 9, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      THIS one, I'm not really concerned about. Especially since I'm not in orbit.
      By 2013, I'll begin to perspire a bit about losing some satellites.

      August 10, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  15. Nancy


    August 9, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
  16. Cynical New Yorker

    On a more serious note, I wonder what the occupants of the International Space Station will be doing to protect themselves...

    August 9, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      Will? More like did and will again. The thing FIRST sent out a massive x-ray pulse.
      That said, I've not a whisper on what NASA plans are for protecting the ISS crew. Perhaps someone should contact NASA so they can issue a press release?

      August 9, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
  17. R.S

    And 50 more...

    August 9, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  18. spider

    what location is N17W69? Anyone know that ?

    August 9, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • Truthwillsetyoufree

      GOP headquarters I hope!

      August 9, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      It's on the sun, for the GOP destruction hopers. That said, it's on the right side, mid equator-north end.
      Go to space dot com and view the pictures. There are two sets, from the STEREO satellites, which view the sun from vastly different locations.
      Any help?

      August 9, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  19. Wzrd1

    Latest from NOAA:
    :Product: Report of Solar-Geophysical Activity
    :Issued: 2011 Aug 09 2200 UTC
    # Prepared jointly by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA,
    # Space Weather Prediction Center and the U.S. Air Force.
    Joint USAF/NOAA Report of Solar and Geophysical Activity
    SDF Number 221 Issued at 2200Z on 09 Aug 2011
    IA. Analysis of Solar Active Regions and Activity from 08/2100Z
    to 09/2100Z: Solar activity was high. Region 1263 (N17W83) produced
    an X6/2b flare at 09/0805Z, the largest x-ray event so far in Cycle
    24. This flare was accompanied by multi-frequency radio emissions,
    including a Tenflare (710sfu), and Type II (1551 km/s) and IV
    signatures. A full halo CME was subsequently observed in LASCO C3
    imagery at 09/0906Z. Initial plane-of-sky speed was estimated to be
    about 1000 km/s. Earlier in the period, a CME was observed in LASCO
    C3 imagery at 0406Z. This event was attributed to an M2/1b flare
    from Region 1263 at 09/03435Z. While the area of Region 1263
    diminished over the last 24 hours, the longitudinal extent expanded,
    and the region ended the period as an Ehc type spot group with a
    beta-gamma-delta magnetic configuration.
    IB. Solar Activity Forecast: Solar activity is likely to be low to
    moderate. A slight chance for an isolated X-class flare, and/or
    proton event, remains for Day 1 (10 August). Event probabilities are
    expected to gradually decrease as Region 1263 rotates around the
    west limb.
    IIA. Geophysical Activity Summary 08/2100Z to 09/2100Z:
    The geomagnetic field was quiet to unsettled through the period under
    the continued influence of a coronal hole high speed stream. Solar
    wind speed at the ACE spacecraft was approximately 600 km/s for most
    of the period. The Bz component of the interplanetary magnetic
    field was predominantly near zero. The greater than 100 MeV protons
    crossed the 1 pfu event threshold at 09/0825Z, reached a maximum of
    2 pfu at 09/0855Z, and ended at 09/1045Z. The greater than 10 MeV
    protons crossed the 10 pfu event threshold at 09/0845Z, reached a
    maximum of 26 pfu at 09/1210Z, and ended at 09/1715Z. The greater
    than 2 MeV electron flux at geosynchronous orbit reached high levels
    during the period.
    IIB. Geophysical Activity Forecast: The geomagnetic field is
    expected to be predominantly quiet to unsettled for the next three
    days (10-12 August). Unsettled conditions are expected on Day 1 (10
    August) as a weak remnant of the 08 August CME arrives. Currently,
    a return to mostly quiet conditions is expected on Days 2 and 3
    (11-12 August). Analysis of the 09/0906Z CME is presently underway
    to determine its potential geoeffectiveness.
    III. Event Probabilities 10 Aug-12 Aug
    Class M 60/40/20
    Class X 10/10/05
    Proton 99/60/10
    PCAF Yellow
    IV. Penticton 10.7 cm Flux
    Observed 09 Aug 098
    Predicted 10 Aug-12 Aug 095/085/085
    90 Day Mean 09 Aug 096
    V. Geomagnetic A Indices
    Observed Afr/Ap 08 Aug 008/010
    Estimated Afr/Ap 09 Aug 008/008
    Predicted Afr/Ap 10 Aug-12 Aug 010/010-007/007-005/005
    VI. Geomagnetic Activity Probabilities 10 Aug-12 Aug
    A. Middle Latitudes
    Active 20/15/05
    Minor storm 05/05/05
    Major-severe storm 01/01/01
    B. High Latitudes
    Active 15/20/10
    Minor storm 10/05/05
    Major-severe storm 05/05/01

    August 9, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
    • Paris Hilton

      That's hot

      August 9, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
      • Wzrd1

        I used to use satellite comms a LOT, before I retired from the military. So, I am still on the NOAA mailing list.
        I got this one when I got up this morning:
        Space Weather Message Code: SUMX01
        Serial Number: 70
        Issue Time: 2011 Aug 09 0812 UTC

        SUMMARY: X-ray Event exceeded X1
        Begin Time: 2011 Aug 09 0748 UTC
        Maximum Time: 2011 Aug 09 0805 UTC
        End Time: 2011 Aug 09 0808 UTC
        X-ray Class: X6.9
        Optical Class: 2b
        Location: N17W69
        NOAA Scale: R3 – Strong

        August 9, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
      • Nicole ritchie

        So hot!

        August 10, 2011 at 2:31 am |
    • sam

      SUMMARY: X-ray Event exceeded X1
      Begin Time: 2011 Aug 09 0748 UTC
      Maximum Time: 2011 Aug 09 0805 UTC
      End Time: 2011 Aug 09 0808 UTC
      X-ray Class: X6.9
      Optical Class: 2b
      Location: N17W69
      NOAA Scale: R3 – Strong

      Argh, I used to know what this all meant. Gotta go look it all up again. Thanks for this –

      August 9, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • Andrew

      An X6 flare is big but not unheard-of. That's why the scale has an X level. If this flare's CME hit us and the interplanetary magnetic field turns southward we might get a good event for researchers, there might be some problems with radios in the arctic and antarctic, and transoceanic airliners might need to fly lower. Since this flare was near the solar limb the CME might well miss us and nothing might happen. Interesting yes, but don't get too upset about it. There are much bigger problems facing the world today.

      August 10, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
  20. Batman

    Picture this: CME hits Earth directly. All communication is cut off. You can't use your cellphone, no more internet porn, can't use your atm, can't even access your cash in person, no electricity, no water in a matter of days, no food because means of distribution are cut off, no gas to power up your BADASS Hummer H3. National Guard and the gregarious local police are deployed to keep the order; but here's the deal, Americans have never experienced anythign like this, we will suddenly be thrown in a mater of seconds to the dark ages with 5 times the population and far less resources and means to deliver them. What to do? TOTAL KAOS! Suddenly, American Idol, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga and Ashton Kutcher seem meaningless. It happened in 1859, it will happen again. But what do I know, I'm just a scare monger who doesn't know anythign, technology is far greater and more powerful than the sun and mother nature.

    August 9, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • sam

      Gregarious?? Dude, that doesn't mean what you think it means. But it makes the post x 10 funnier.

      August 9, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
      • Batman

        It was sarcasm, buddy. I know what gregarious means.

        August 9, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
      • sam

        Then I love you, Batman.

        August 9, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • Louis

      WHAT NO P RN......

      August 9, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
      • Motley

        That could cause riots,.... I sure hope the adult video store has enough for the surge in sales,....

        August 10, 2011 at 12:27 am |
    • Wzrd1

      DO enlighten us all, HOW is the means of food distribution cut off? Did a massive power failure disable all diesel engines and generators? Nope.
      Electrical power would be offline for up to 7 years, as transformers to replace destroyed ones would have to be built, requiring emergency power to the plants to build them. Every wire and insulator would have to be visually inspected, but gasoline can still be pumped by generator power. Powering refineries isn't difficult by generator.
      No, it would be inconvenient in the extreme, but there are plans in place to handle a fair amount of the worst impacts on the nation.
      To include mobilizing the National Guard to assist the public. Or did you forget, the National Guard are the state militia, to be used for all manner of services in an emergency?

      August 9, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
      • sam

        It's doable if people keep their heads and follow the plans in place. Problem is...I just can't see that happening. The available resources will tank much faster than intended when the looting and rioting starts, and that's what'll collapse the infrastructure and the pipeline of goods and services. We're one messy species when we're scared.

        August 9, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • Cynical New Yorker

      @Batman: Uh..."KAOS"????? Did the shoe phone miss your head by "that much"...?

      August 9, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • me

      No more Internet Porn! Umm, I guess i'll have to find lady gaga!

      August 10, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • micky blue

      For some reason i read that whole entire thing and my inner monologue was that of christian bale's batman, even more terrorfying, but if anybody can save us its you batman, youre the hero we deserve, but not the one we need right now..

      August 10, 2011 at 2:35 am |
  21. jon

    im enjoying all comments on here. some on here are really funny, some are a little mean. but tell me scholars (seriously) whey do scientist tell us these things now about solar flares that have been around since whatever . and the earth goes through all shifting ( dec 12 2012) that takes place every 28,000 years. at least maybe 40 or so years of fantastic noaa, they shouldve told us something??? my bad, the gov't probably told them not to tell us nothing. as usual

    August 9, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • Batman

      The reason why solar flares are so dangerous right now (yes they've been around since the beginning of the sun) is because we are, more than ever, dependent on technology that can be wiped out in a matter of seconds should a CME hit Earth directly. Back in 1859, they didn't have satellites, atms, the internet, cellphones, etc. Say everythign gets whiped out in a second, how do you communicate with your loved ones across town? How does the government even communicate to the general public what is going on?

      August 9, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
      • Wzrd1

        Government communications are always performed in one manner, during an emergency. The Emergency Broadcast System, which is heavily EMP hardened and has their own emergency power supplies.
        That would still permit small battery and crank powered radios receive instructions.
        That said, the NOAA system for our area is offline, EBS is operating, but NOAA radio is offline in the Philadelphia area. If I didn't have the TV on today, I'd have missed the tornado warning.

        August 9, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
      • queenbee

        Uhmmmmm.... in many "small towns USA" the towns no longer have the capability to initiate sirens for storms let along an emergency like this. The EBS which was used for years is defunct in a lot of small towns due to cutting back and the wear and tear on infrastructure that has had to do without subsidies from the Federal government. IN the last series of tornados through my own little town, there were no warnings or tornado sirens and no Emergency broadcast system–instead the local police (all 3 of them) and the 3 ambulances drove through the town with their sirens on–when people asked what was the big deal they were told to get under cover because a tornado was headed our way and THIS WAS THE ALARM.

        Everyone takes for granted that systems put in place and exercised since the 1950s is still operational and kept in good repair–the fact is–there WILL BE MAYHEM in the event of an emergency because a lot of towns have gotten lax and reappropriated funds from "emergency theories to just running day to day stuff like getting the trash emptied.

        In my own little town, over 85% if the property taxes have gone unpaid since 2009–so no budget for sirens or for water utility employees for that matter–and the police force of 7 cars has to have "sharing duties with two other small towns (pop around 5K each) THIS is what is slowly going on across this country–the infrastructure is SHREDDED and not only cannot support an emergency in theory of the magnitude discussed here–they are woefully inadequate in case of ANY real emergency. New Orleans and Katrina only highlighted the quiet horror of many other places all over this nation

        August 9, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
      • sam

        queenbee's pretty much nailed the unfortunate truth.

        August 9, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
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