Sunspot 1092 doom passes by as predictions misfire

2010-08-04 00:00

“HUGE solar blast set to hit Earth” read a headline in yesterday’s London Daily Mirror while the Daily Telegraph cautioned, “Nasa warns solar flares from ‘huge space storm’ will cause devastation”.

At yesterday’s Witness morning news conference we wondered if we would have any readers today. If you are now happily reading this article, that means the predicted devastation was greatly exaggerated.

According to the Telegraph, it all began with Sunspot 1092, the size of the Earth, which, appropriately enough, popped up last Sunday with a huge flare that astronomers linked to an even larger eruption across the surface of the 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.”

This wave of “supercharged gas” was predicted to reach Earth yesterday and was expec­ted to bump the magnetic shield protecting Earth.

“Scientists have warned that a really big solar eruption could destroy satellites and wreck power and communications grids.”

The specialist website www.solarcycle24.com was more sober in its assessment of the situation: “There will be a chance for minor geomagnetic storming and a small possibility of major geomagnetic storming at high latitudes.”

What seems to have got everybody excited about this particular solar flare is that it’s ahead of schedule. Solar activity takes place within an 11-year cycle and only at the peak of the cycle are there typically more sunspots and consequently an increase in solar flares.

The peak of the current cycle is not expected until 2013.

Nasa issued a warning in June stating that their “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”.

Well, it seems to have woken up a bit earlier than expected.

“I’m not sitting here quaking in my shoes waiting for something to happen,” said Jake Alletson of the local branch of the Astronomical Association of South Africa. “Light from the Sun takes seven-and-a-half minutes to reach us … Radiation is not much slower, so it would have got here by now.”

Looks like Sunspot 1092 has turned out to be just a pimple.

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