News24

Earth braces for biggest space storm

2012-03-08 08:40

Washington - The biggest space weather storm in five years is hurtling toward Earth, threatening to disrupt power grids, GPS systems, satellites and airline flights, experts say.

The brunt of the storm is expected to strike early on Thursday and last through Friday, possibly garbling some of Earthlings' most prized gadgets but also giving viewers in parts of Central Asia a prime look at the aurora borealis, or northern lights, when darkness falls on Thursday.

"Space weather has gotten very interesting over the past 24 hours," said Joseph Kunches, a space weather scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Nasa warned of a "severe" storm event that would impact both the Earth and Mars as well as some key space agency satellites.

The fuss began late on Sunday at an active region on the Sun known as 1429, with a big solar flare that was associated with a burst of solar wind and plasma known as a coronal mass ejection that thrust toward the Earth at about 6.4m km/h.

A pair of solar flares and a CME followed overnight Tuesday-Wednesday, setting off a strong geomagnetic and solar radiation storm registering at level three on a five-step scale.

Nasa said the first of the two flares on March 6-7 - classified in the potent X class and facing directly at the Earth - was the biggest this year and one of the largest of this cycle known as the solar minimum, which began in early 2007.

Solar activity

In fact, it was second only to a stronger one that erupted in August, and the leading edge of the CME it sparked is expected to reach Earth at 05:25 GMT on March 08, plus or minus seven hours.

"Such a CME could result in a severe geomagnetic storm, causing aurora at low latitudes, with possible disruption to high frequency radio communication, global positioning systems (GPS) and power grids," NASA said.

The solar flares alone caused brief high frequency radio blackouts that have now passed, according to NOAA.

The storm is likely "the strongest one since December 2006," Kunches said, noting, however, that the Earth experienced a stronger radio blackout last August.

"But en masse, if you put it all together with the geomagnetic effects and the solar radiation effects, I would put it on par with one at the end of the last solar cycle, which was over five years ago."

Satellites, power grids and even astronauts aboard the International Space Station could be affected by the radiation storm, which may cause them to seek shelter in better protected parts of the orbiting lab as they have in the past.

"Flight surgeons in Houston's mission control centre have been monitoring the solar activity and will continue to do so," Nasa spokesperson Mike Curie said.

"They have determined that there presently is no concern for the six crew members aboard the International Space Station."

However, Kunches said some commercial airlines have already taken actions to reroute and fly further away from the poles.

First major solar flare


And more such storms could follow in the coming days because region 1429 is expected to stay active, he said.

Geomagnetic and radiation storms are growing more frequent as the Sun leaves its solar minimum period and moves into a solar maximum over the coming years, but people are generally protected by Earth's magnetic field.

"The current increase in the number of X-class flares is part of the Sun's normal 11-year solar cycle, during which activity on the Sun ramps up to solar maximum, which is expected to peak in late 2013," the US space agency said.

However, some experts are concerned that because the world is more reliant on GPS and satellite technology now than it was during the last solar maximum, more disruptions to modern life are likely.

Space storms are not new. The first major solar flare was recorded by British astronomer Richard Carrington in 1859.

Other solar geomagnetic storms have been observed in recent decades. One huge solar flare in 1972 cut off long-distance telephone communication in the midwestern state of Illinois, Nasa said.

Another similar flare in 1989 "provoked geomagnetic storms that disrupted electric power transmission" and caused blackouts across the Canadian province of Quebec, according to the US space agency said.

Comments
  • Dolf - 2012-03-08 08:49

    http://www.spaceweather.com/......Very interresting!!

      Jan - 2012-03-08 13:10

      malema and his cronies have been planning to be the first peoples to land on the sun. asked by his fellow white south africans " dont you think it will be a little hot " he replied, " you blady fools are stupid, we are going at night time!"

      Stalliano15 - 2012-03-08 17:33

      Thanks for sharing...

      Micah - 2012-03-08 21:52

      Jan why are you so obsessed with malema ? you can't stop talking about him even in article thats on solar weather ! You like the guy so much be his friend on facebook or ask him to marry you or something.

  • Ben - 2012-03-08 09:00

    Interesting but the media these days loves jumping on this and freaking out the layman... R10 says you don't experience a thing.

      E=MC2 - 2012-03-08 09:06

      Exactly! Would be cool if we did... but ya, media hype doing the rounds yet again.

      E=MC2 - 2012-03-08 09:06

      Exactly! Would be cool if we did... but ya, media hype doing the rounds yet again.

      justin.pretorius - 2012-03-08 09:13

      I concur, there was supposed to have been a big one a few weeks back with lots of hype - nothing happened.

      justin.pretorius - 2012-03-08 09:13

      I concur, there was supposed to have been a big one a few weeks back with lots of hype - nothing happened.

      richard.hipkin - 2012-03-08 09:42

      What do you expect to happen? Space storms are not earth storms, entirely different things.. I bet once the storm has passed you can still count 6 fingers on each hand!

      richard.hipkin - 2012-03-08 09:42

      What do you expect to happen? Space storms are not earth storms, entirely different things.. I bet once the storm has passed you can still count 6 fingers on each hand!

      clivecorbz - 2012-03-08 13:07

      It lowers the water levels in your toilet temporarily... But those who use radios or satellites as a mean of transferring data can experience some interference.

      Peter - 2012-03-08 15:38

      I'll take those bets anyday. Obviously you just don't know what to ook for. DSTV always shows some reaction with every solar-flare. Or do you think those momentary breaks in signal are just tine liddle rats dancing around in MultiChoice land?

  • Nik - 2012-03-08 09:07

    Why do they say "the Earth" and not "the Mars"?

      Klipkop - 2012-03-08 09:35

      pretty simple, Earth comes from Erda, of course meaning ground or soil. Hence the ground or the soil but Mars is the name of a roman god, of war, nogal. Hence Mars not with a the... basically our planet does not not have a name in my book.

      Klipkop - 2012-03-08 09:35

      pretty simple, Earth comes from Erda, of course meaning ground or soil. Hence the ground or the soil but Mars is the name of a roman god, of war, nogal. Hence Mars not with a the... basically our planet does not not have a name in my book.

      Antoinette - 2012-03-08 09:49

      The Earth's name is Gaia (Greek goddess of the Earth) :-)

      Antoinette - 2012-03-08 09:49

      The Earth's name is Gaia (Greek goddess of the Earth) :-)

      clivecorbz - 2012-03-08 13:29

      What's the Greek god of the economy called?

      Garth - 2012-03-09 08:00

      Well, if one is referring to the goings on in the current SA economy under the useless anc, then HERMES might fit the description, for he is the God of: thievery, messengers, trade, travel and cunning wiles.

  • robbie.crouch - 2012-03-08 09:09

    Yet we are in one of the quietest solar maximums ever!

      Compos - 2012-03-08 11:37

      My solar maximum is just getting larger every year....

  • Ashley - 2012-03-08 09:26

    Its strange that they only let the public know about it a day or so in advance.

      Alan - 2012-03-08 09:32

      For quicker updates ..switch from News24 to The Sun

      Alan - 2012-03-08 09:32

      For quicker updates ..switch from News24 to The Sun

      richard.hipkin - 2012-03-08 09:43

      It's so you save money and not panic buy every tin of sardines in Spar :)

      richard.hipkin - 2012-03-08 09:43

      It's so you save money and not panic buy every tin of sardines in Spar :)

      Alan - 2012-03-08 09:48

      I already bought all the Sun mealie meal.

      Alan - 2012-03-08 09:48

      I already bought all the Sun mealie meal.

      Jason - 2012-03-08 10:00

      Well unless these agencies find a fool proof way of predicting the future, a day or two warning is ALL you're gonna get...ever! the CME only took place yesterday, how much more warning could they possibly give you Ashley.

      Jason - 2012-03-08 10:00

      Well unless these agencies find a fool proof way of predicting the future, a day or two warning is ALL you're gonna get...ever! the CME only took place yesterday, how much more warning could they possibly give you Ashley.

      Peter - 2012-03-08 15:40

      Jason .... Ashley not his mommy's brighterest kidlette.

  • cj.venter - 2012-03-08 09:33

    it's only interesting if it means the crews on the ISS come back to earth as the fantastic 4 or more. i felt nothing 5 years ago and it was worse, so what's the big fuss? is someone on the news team a doomsday enthusiastic lunatic? lol

  • johan.landman - 2012-03-08 09:39

    Well no Power here where I am....so might be the storm...

      Witchbladesa - 2012-03-08 09:49

      It just might be Eskom but hey knows may be they use solar power.... hehehe

      Witchbladesa - 2012-03-08 09:49

      It just might be Eskom but hey knows may be they use solar power.... hehehe

  • Se-a Spencer Ikeremm - 2012-03-08 09:46

    This is all just useless info. I suggest NASA only tell us the serious things- like a big asteroid heading towards a collision with Earth (not in 2039 either). Anything else doesn't need the attention of the ordinary earthling who's petrol tank is empty, bank balance is minus R578, and only had a pear for supper last night.

  • Charmaine - 2012-03-08 11:03

    Science and skills will not help mankind today, because the soul is dead! Mankind is very ungrateful for all the blessings and gifts from Our Universal Creator, known as Only One God, Revelations is not to be taken lightly. These are signs from God, for mankind to Repent and mend their conducts. Man can not even create a fly. So, we should all turn our vision towards God and His Loving Grace. I feel for all the humans that this may affect. God have Mercy upon His people. For those who do not believe in God, too Bad. Amen.

      richard.hipkin - 2012-03-08 11:21

      So you went and bought every tin of sardines from Spar didn't you...

      Paulus - 2012-03-08 13:19

      Did you read the article, or just started telling us we are doomed. Solar cycles, always happens, been happening for billions of years?

      Kelly Ann Boulter - 2012-03-08 14:00

      Blah blah blah ... Sorry what were u waffling about? I was actually reading the artical!! Maybe u should too!! Ps very unchristian of u not to want to save us hearthens! Lol

      betsy.compaan - 2012-03-08 15:23

      "For those who do not believe in God, too Bad. Amen." Why even bother with the nice words if you end it like that?

  • ludlowdj - 2012-03-08 13:11

    Strange considering we are in the most dormant solar period in years and the last reported big solar storm was less than a quarter the size of the 2000 solar storm that had absolutely no effect on earth.

  • Edwhynot - 2012-03-08 14:10

    Oh look, another headline like this. (trollface)

      arne.verhoef - 2012-03-08 19:50

      Might as well be Sondag

  • Craig - 2012-03-09 09:48

    And suddenly, very suddenly............ nothing happened, but it happened suddenly.

      hayley.dreyer - 2012-03-09 10:14

      Brilliant @Craig

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