No adverse effects but unleashed picturesque auroras
The largest solar storm in almost a decade swept over Earth on January 24.
The storms originate from sunspots—areas on the sun’s surface that have high magnetic activity. These flares or storms throw ionised gases or plasma towards the earth. The plasma has an electromagnetic field which, when it interacts with the earth’s magnetic field, gives rise to a solar storm. Being the largest explosion in the solar system, a storm releases as much energy as a thousand billion atom bombs bursting together. This coronal mass ejection (CME) occurred on January 23, moved at the speed of 2,200 km/second and reached the earth the next day.
The storm can knock out satellites, affecting telecommunication; power grids, causing blackouts; and disturb transport and finance systems. To avoid problems of navigation, Delta Airlines redirected at least half a dozen airplanes that were routed over the North Pole.
While the CME did not hit the earth and no adverse effects were reported, people in the Arctic saw some picturesque auroras.
Why the sun flares?
The sun’s magnetic activity goes up and down in a fairly regular 11 year cycle. The highs are full of sunspots, the lows are marked by less or no sunspots. At present, the sun is in the midst of an active phase of a solar cycle. This cycle is called the solar cycle 24; the counting began in 1755 when recording of solar sunspot activity began. According to scientific data, many solar storms are expected in the near future since the current cycle is reaching its peak. The sun is likely to reach the solar maximum in 2013.
Earlier on February 13, 2011, the sun unleashed a massive solar flare. Three more followed in a month—March 7, 9 and 19. In August 2010, the first storm of the solar cycle 24 occurred. Before this, a storm happened in December 2006.
How bad the storms can get
The good news is that these episodes of solar storms did not cause much destruction. The intensity of a solar storm depends on the direction of the plasma’s electromagnetic field. If it is parallel to the earth’s magnetic field, the charged particles cannot affect it. The bad news is that massive solar storm can cause mayhem.
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