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Supernatural Solar Storm Headed Toward Earth May Disrupt Power

Solar storm headed toward Earth may disrupt power

BY Associated Press
Thursday, March 08, 2012

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The largest solar flare in five years is racing toward Earth, threatening to unleash a torrent of charged particles that could disrupt power grids, GPS and airplane flights.

The sun erupted Tuesday evening, and the effects should start smacking Earth around 6 a.m. CST Thursday, according to forecasters at the federal government's Space Weather Prediction Center. They say the flare is growing as it speeds outward from the sun.

"It's hitting us right in the nose," said Joe Kunches, a scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He called it the sun's version of "Super Tuesday."

The solar storm is likely to last through Friday morning, but the region that erupted can still send more blasts our way, Kunches said. He said another set of active sunspots is ready to aim at Earth right after this.

But for now, scientists are waiting to see what happens Thursday when the charged particles hit Earth at 4 million mph.

NASA solar physicist Alex Young added, "It could give us a bit of a jolt." But he said this is far from a super solar storm.

source: http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=13&articleid=20120308_13_A6_Thelar722867
 
Maybe not this time, but solar flares pose computer threat

By Dan Neutel, Postmedia News - March 9, 2012 6:06 AM

While the planet seems to have survived the most recent barrage of solar flares, there is no predicting that the next one will unfold as smoothly.

The power of these kinds of flares, should the dose be big enough to hit the Earth just right, would have the capability to knock out almost all of our planet's electronics and power networks.

"There has been a coronal mass ejection and they occur from time to time," said David Hanes, professor and the head of the physics, engineering physics and astronomy department at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont. "They consist of a whole bunch of charged particles that reach Earth at several hundred kilometres a second."

While these particles and radiation generally only reveal themselves to us in a larger Northern Lights display, they could be much less wonderful to our computer-dependant society.

"What you have is a rush of charged particles moving into the Earth's magnetic field and being directed in a certain way," said Hanes. "This means that you have a large electric current above us. That gives rise to pulses that can affect things like our electronics."

The most famous example would be in 1989, when these currents knocked out much of Quebec's power grid after a huge pulse was forced through the circuitry.

"We have to be aware of this because this kind of pulse can do things like fry chips in computers," said Hanes. "We are now so totally reliant on computers for running things like our transit systems, our power grids and even our refrigerators that a really big coronal mass ejection could create quite a lot of damage of that sort. If every single computer in North America got zapped by this it would take ages to recover from it.

"This is a reminder that these ejections can occur and be much more violent than this one — and that in decades to come, we could be blasted by a direct hit that could have some of these serious side-effects."

The possibilities are so powerful that some militaries have studied applying this type of power surge to warfare.

"This is actually an issue that has come up in the context of war," said Hanes. "Because it is possible to create and use weapons that could be exploded high up in the atmosphere that would produce a very strong electro-magnetic pulse that could wipe out all the electronic and computer infrastructure in a localized area."

Kelly Korreck from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has seen how these solar flares can affect the natural world.

"Dolphins and homing pigeons both navigate by magnetic sensors behind their noses," said Korreck. "When this magnetic field get so disturbed they can be thrown off course in terms of navigation or flight. So, there are natural consequences, but of course, the most beautiful is of course, the Northern or Southern Lights, depending on were you are."

Dneutel@postmedia.com

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

source: http://www.theprovince.com/technolo...lares+pose+computer+threat/6273332/story.html
 

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