Why 'Brother Sun' Could Become a Big Problem...

On the 2nd of August The Telegraph reported that Nasa scientists were braced for a 'solar tsunami'. According to the report...

'Astronomers from all over the world witnessed the huge flare above a giant sunspot the size of the Earth, which they linked to an even larger eruption across the surface of Sun.

The explosion, called a coronal mass ejection, was aimed directly towards Earth, which then sent a “solar tsunami” racing 93 million miles across space. Images from the SDO hint at a shock wave travelling from the flare into space, the New Scientist reported.'

Experts said the wave of supercharged gas will likely reach the Earth on Tuesday, when it will buffet the natural magnetic shield protecting Earth. It is likely to spark spectacular displays of the aurora or northern and southern lights. "This eruption is directed right at us," said Leon Golub, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). "It's the first major Earth-directed eruption in quite some time."

Scientists have warned that a really big solar eruption could destroy satellites and wreck power and communications grids around the globe if it happened today. Nasa recently warned that Britain could face widespread power blackouts and be left without critical communication signals for long periods of time, after the earth is hit by a once-in-a-generation “space storm”.

The Daily Telegraph disclosed in June that senior space agency scientists believed the Earth will be hit with unprecedented levels of magnetic energy from solar flares after the Sun wakes “from a deep slumber” sometime around 2013. It remains unclear, however, how much damage this latest eruption will cause the world’s communication tools.' 

The Catholic Knight has reported on this also, in his post writing...

'Here is the good news. These solar ejections, no matter how large, are virtually harmless to biological life on earth. Thanks to earth's magnetic field, God has provided a shield of protection that is guaranteed to protect humans, animals and plants. Here's the bad news, God did not include electrical grids and electronic equipment in that plan. So when the great solar storm happens we can look forward to a disaster that will cripple the whole industrialized world and throw us back to a technology level comparable to the 1800s.'

Unfortunately, it could be much worse than that, because The Catholic Knight is perhaps unaware that when it comes to the earth's magnetic field, Houston has a problem. On December 16th 2008, Nasa reported on its own website that they had discovered, a 'giant breach in earth's magnetic field'. Now, I'm no scientist, but the idea of big coronal mass ejections headed towards earth while there is a giant breach in the earth's magnetic field sounds like a recipe for major disaster. Nasa stated...

'The solar wind presses against Earth's magnetosphere almost directly above the equator where our planet's magnetic field points north. Suppose a bundle of solar magnetism comes along, and it points north, too. The two fields should reinforce one another, strengthening Earth's magnetic defenses and slamming the door shut on the solar wind. In the language of space physics, a north-pointing solar magnetic field is called a "northern IMF" and it is synonymous with shields up!

"So, you can imagine our surprise when a northern IMF came along and shields went down instead," says Sibeck. "This completely overturns our understanding of things." Northern IMF events don't actually trigger geomagnetic storms, notes Raeder, but they do set the stage for storms by loading the magnetosphere with plasma. A loaded magnetosphere is primed for auroras, power outages, and other disturbances that can result when, say, a CME (coronal mass ejection) hits.

The years ahead could be especially lively. Raeder explains: "We're entering Solar Cycle 24. For reasons not fully understood, CMEs in even-numbered solar cycles (like 24) tend to hit Earth with a leading edge that is magnetized north. Such a CME should open a breach and load the magnetosphere with plasma just before the storm gets underway. It's the perfect sequence for a really big event."'

A 'really big event'?  Well, that's one way of describing it!


P Standforth said…
The new solar cycle has actually been slow starting, and looks as if it will be a lot quieter than expected a few years back. Forecasts of activity have been steadidly reduced. But you can always bank on newspapers in August to turn up the hyperbole to maximum and build fabulous tales from little fact.

I had hoped to see the Aurora Borealis as the CME came through, but not a glimmer. It is still early in the solar cycle though, so perhaps in two or three years.

With regards to earth, the effects will be much as they have been in every 11 year solar cycle for the last millenium or five. Sleep soundly.