This time was a false alarm, but watch out for the sun: it rises (The Financial Times, UK)

This week's solar flare occurred, and the world in this regard, the media erupted with a series of messages, alerting us to the fact that on-orbit satellites will be burned up, and power fail, when over-charged solar particles to break into the Earth's atmosphere

Meanwhile, nothing much happened. Some airlines, however, have changed the trajectory of their aircraft, pushing them away from the poles, but by Friday evening the above natural phenomenon not caused any major disasters.

Yes, this time was a false alarm, but the delusion still not worth it. This episode should not be written off as just another newspaper "duck" or scientific "scare", which are so much in our recent history. Enough to recall the predictions of a computer crash in 2000 and reports of the appearance of deadly viruses, which, fortunately, did not meet the related concerns.

The fact is that the sun will not delos, its activity increases all the time, and is projected to reach its peak in the next year.

Anticipated solar storm, and much more powerful than those that took place this week. These phenomena lead to the release of huge amount of energy charged particles, which will have a more powerful impact on the atmosphere of our planet and its magnetic field.

Intense radiation and electromagnetic waves can cause damage to satellites — and they orbit today, there are about 900 — to interrupt radio communication, disrupt navigation systems, and possibly damage the ground power supply.

More recently, between 2008 and 2010, scientists who study the Sun, were concerned about the sudden "quiet" behavior of light. Based on the 11-year solar cycle, solar activity should already exceed the minimum values and gain momentum after the previous peak, which occurred in 2001. However, no stains or flares were observed, so that some of the scientists even suggested that the cycle is broken, and activity is likely to linger for decades.

The last time the light has demonstrated such a "quiet" behavior in the period from 1645 to 1715, known to science as the "Maunder Minimum". Although the periods of calm sun allocates nearly as much heat energy as during storms, climate scientists believe that the calm behavior of light has a cooling effect on the planet. This fact can be considered as a kind of antidote to compensate a man-made phenomenon of global warming.


Early last year, the sun finally "woke up" and since its activity increases, and by a scheme similar to the previous such events. However, the current cycle of a year or two behind the usual schedule.

If we consider what scientists call "space weather" that is, the influence of solar activity on the Earth, it falls short of forecasts, which showed the current downturn. A key phenomenon of such activity is the so-called "coronal mass ejection" when the explosion energy of a particle with a powerful charge separated from the sun and out into space at several million miles per hour. On average, 20-30 hours they reach our planet. One adverse effect that the solar storm would cause on earth, we can predict a day or so.

However, a major problem in forecasting is that the effects of these storms is highly dependent on how the solar particles will interact with the magnetic field of the planet, and it is hard to predict.

Government, of course, make every effort to improve the quality of forecasts, as an early warning will allow companies such as satellite operators and electricity services, take the necessary precautions to protect the most vulnerable electronic equipment.

What consequences can be expected from solar flares in the worst case scenario? We all remember how last year, scientists working for the U.S. government and the UK, have warned of the possibility of a global catastrophe, like the ever-memorable hurricane "Katrina". Scientists argued that if repeated solar storm, which became the most powerful in the history of mankind, which in 1859 put out of action recently installed telegraph network will cataclysm capable of depriving a whole continent electricity for weeks. Amount of damages in this case can be up to $ 2 trillion.

The most important event of this kind was the failure of the grid belonging to the Canadian power company Hydro-Quebec, during a solar storm that occurred in 1989. Then the 6 million people were without power for 9 hours. Meanwhile, the voltage changes in supply systems caused by oscillations of the geomagnetic field, often lead to cases of power failure, which, however, do not look so disastrous, as the aforementioned episode.

However, even the powerful solar storm is unable to seriously affect the health of people on Earth. However, in orbit, outside the protective barrier, which is the earth's atmosphere, a flash of radiation can be dangerous, so on the International Space Station (ISS) is a special compartment where astronauts can take shelter in case of a threat. However, NASA specialists considered a storm that occurred this week, not intense enough to take advantage of this compartment.

Today, the world is likely to be more vulnerable to the effects of electromagnetic storms than during the last solar maximum, which occurred 12 years ago. The fact is that our everyday life is much more than before, depends on the electronic equipment, which is the basis of all life support systems — from navigation devices to computer networks.

Alan Woodward (Alan Woodward), Professor in Computer Science University of Surrey (University of Surrey), suggests that the effects of solar storms can be disastrous if it will cause the failure of computer networks. "Without computers our whole life, at least in the form in which we know it, stop — the scientist — so I was very afraid of the fact that computers are very sensitive to noise, resulting from solar flares."

Meanwhile, other experts are trying to allay those fears and reassure people. Professor at Delft University of Technology (Delft University of Technology) Elko Doornbos (Eelco Doornbos), an expert in the field of "space weather", thinks that the expected solar storms are not a serious danger even for the electronics of satellites, which is considered the most vulnerable. "People respond to outbreaks of solar activity emotionally, probably because such events are of extraterrestrial origin, and so they have something mystical," — explains the researcher.

Most mysterious manifestation of "space weather" is the aurora borealis — the glow that appears in the night sky when the charged solar particles invade the upper layers of the atmosphere. Intense solar storm is quite capable of leading to the fact that this phenomenon can be observed not only in the polar regions, but also of the lower latitudes. Therefore, pending electromagnetic storms, which many believe we have chaos, there is a positive side — the more people will get the opportunity to see flashes of the northern lights and enjoy this unforgettable spectacle.

Clive Cookson — Editor of the scientific department of the newspaper Financial Times.


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