8 July 2010

Stormy Sun May Be About To Cause Trouble

Posted by Dan Satterfield

Active region on the sun from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. (Upper left corner of the sun)

CME today from strong sunspot. Courtesy NASA Solar Dynamics Observ.

Space weather experts at NOAA and NASA have been monitoring a very active sunspot over the last few days.

This area has produced several Coronal Mass Ejections (CME). These flares can cause trouble with radio communication and even cause power outages if they hit Earth. Satellites can be especially hard hit. Past solar flares have crippled communication satellites.

A really big flare could cause billions of dollars in damage to the electrical grids and stop HF radio communications for hours.  Commercial passenger flights over the North Pole use HF radio to keep in contact with air traffic control. When there is a large flare the HF frequencies are not usable and these flights must take a longer route.

This sunspot is not facing Earth so these flares have not affected us. The flare is, however,  turning in our direction. If it stays active, then we could see a geomagnetic storm. More than likely the only major effect will be a display of the Aurora in high latitudes.

The folks at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center are only forecasting a 1% chance of a big class M or class X flare, but if you live in the high latitudes, be on the look out for a display of the Aurora Borealis.