News

    Solar Storm Strikes Earth’s Magnetic Field Without Major Disruptions

    This NASA image shows a solar flare erupting on the Sun's northeastern hemisphere, January 22, 2012.
    This NASA image shows a solar flare erupting on the Sun's northeastern hemisphere, January 22, 2012.
    Jessica Berman

    The Sun’s surface erupted with a series of solar storms this week, sending a barrage of electrically charged particles crashing into the Earth’s magnetic field. So far, the solar blasts have caused only minor disruptions to terrestrial communications systems. But more solar eruptions are on the way over the next few days. The Sun is mid-way through an 11-year solar storm cycle that can have a major impact on human activities here on Earth - and in space.

    Solar storms can disrupt electric power grids, triggering black-outs and false alarms at power stations, as well as interfering with high frequency radio communications.  

    Alex Young is a solar scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center who studies Sun storm activity. Young scanned an official alert issued Thursday by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA] after the first waves of solar activity reached Earth. Concerns ranged from passengers on high-flying commercial airliners to lunar orbiting satellites.

    “Delta [Airlines] is taking alternate routes for seven flights. And let’s see: There was an excessive current seen in a particular satellite. And that means that some of the data was impacted and they had to put the satellite into a safe mode. This was for the GRAIL satellite,” said Young.

    The twin GRAIL satellites, operated by the US Space Agency NASA, are orbiting the moon, collecting data on the lunar surface. Delta airlines flies some routes over the North Pole from the US to points in Asia because it is a shorter distance than flying closer to the Equator.  

    Had NASA and Delta not made these adjustments, Young said, magnetic energy from the solar storms, which is most intense at the Earth’s poles, could have seriously disrupted radio communication and caused serious damage to sensitive electronic circuits, especially critical to the NASA mission.

    “If the precautions weren’t taken, then you’d have the chance of parts of the electronics and parts of the cameras on the spacecraft would be basically destroyed. And something like that, there’s no way you could go up and fix it,” said Young.

    Young said the biggest concern during solar flare events is that they often are accompanied by massive eruptions of matter and energy into space called coronal mass ejections, or CMEs.

    If the CMEs are ejected toward the Earth, they arrive like a tsunami of electromagnetically charged sub-atomic particles, traveling more than 965 kilometers per second. Young said when that energy wave strikes Earth’s magnetosphere, it disturbs this protective shield.

    “And causes it to wiggle, kind of like ringing a bell, and that generates electrical currents in the upper atmosphere. This can excite particles that stream down into the atmosphere in northern latitudes and that creates the aurora borealis.”

    Solar scientists can predict with great accuracy when CMEs will occur and whether they will impact Earth.  What they can’t forecast, says Young, is precisely which way the solar winds will be blowing when they interact with the planet’s magnetosphere.

    “If it’s oriented northward, which is the same direction as the Earth’s magnetic field, then the interaction is not particularly strong. But if it’s oriented southward, then the two are opposite, the Earth’s [magnetic field] is northward and the CMEs is southward, that actually causes a stronger interaction and releases more energy,” said Young.

    Joe Kunches is a space scientist with NOAA's Space Weather Center in Boulder, Colorado. The Sun is in the middle of an 11-year solar storm cycle, and forecasters at NOAA expect more gusts of electrically charged particles visiting Earth within the next week.  

    Kunches notes a solar wind event occurred at the end of January.

    "So, about six weeks ago, we had somewhat similar circumstances. Now it's here again. I think we're going to get used to seeing similar pulses come off the Sun over the next few years, and they may be as often as one every couple of weeks, one a month, something like that," he said.

    Solar storm forecasters also say 2013 could see stronger solar wind activity before the storm cycle winds down.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora