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Sunday, February 20, 2011

UPDATED: Aurora alert, CLASS X FLASH, Huge Solar Flare Jams Radio, Satellite Signals, could disrupt electrical power grids VIDEOS

Scientists warn of $2,000bn solar ‘Katrina’
By Clive Cookson in Washington
February 20 2011
The sun is waking up from a long quiet spell. Last week it sent out the strongest flare for four years – and scientists are warning that earth should prepare for an intense electromagnetic storm that, in the worst case, could be a “global Katrina” costing the world economy $2,000bn.
Senior officials responsible for policy on solar storms – also known as space weather – in the US, UK and Sweden urged more preparedness at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington.
“We have to take the issue of space weather seriously,” said Sir John Beddington, UK chief scientist. “The sun is coming out of a quiet period, and our vulnerability has increased since the last solar maximum [around 2000].”
“Predict and prepare should be the watchwords,” agreed Jane Lubchenco, head of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “So much more of our technology is vulnerable than it was 10 years ago.”
A solar storm starts with an eruption of super-hot gas travelling out from the sun at speeds of up to 5m miles an hour. Electrically charged particles hit earth’s atmosphere 20 to 30 hours later, causing electromagnetic havoc.
Last week’s solar storm may have been the biggest since 2007, but it was relatively small in historical terms.
It caused some radio communications problems and minor disruption of civil aviation as airlines routed flights away from the polar regions, said Dr Lubchenco.
A more extreme storm can shut down communications satellites for many hours – or even cause permanent damage to their components. On the ground, the intense magnetic fluctuations can induce surges in power lines, leading to grid failures such as the one that blacked out the whole of Quebec in 1989.
The 11-year cycle of solar activity is quite variable and the present one is running late, with the next maximum expected in 2013.
The peak was not expected to be very strong but that should not cause complacency, said Tom Bogdan, director of the US Space Weather Prediction Center.
The most intense solar storm on record, which ruined much of the world’s newly installed telegraph network in 1859, took place during an otherwise weak cycle. An 1859-type storm today could knock out the world’s information, communications and electricity distribution systems, at a cost estimated by the US government at $2,000bn.
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NASA satellite image shows a solar flare leaping from the Sun in 2000. A powerful solar eruption that triggered a huge geomagnetic storm has disturbed radio communications and could disrupt electrical power grids, radio and satellite communication in the next days, NASA has warned. 
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The NWS Space Weather Prediction Center said the solar flare, the largest since December 2006, occured Monday evening. The flare was cited for causing disruptions in high-frequency communications. More flares could occur Thursday night and Friday. 


NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) (part of NOAA's National Weather Service, NWS), has issued an alert for an increase in solar activity to moderate levels with a chance for an isolated major solar flare over the next few days. The consequent solar wind, consisting of charged atomic particles, is expected to intersect the upper atmosphere over polar regions February 17-19, leading to the possibility of brilliant auroras.
Whether or not we will be able to see an aurora locally in the northern sky depends upon several factors. Foremost is the degree of disturbance to the earth's magnetic field and latitude. The brilliance of Aurora's decreases the further south the location. At Washington D.C.'s latitude , it would probably take the magnetic disturbance arising from a major solar flare, now forecast as at least a possibility.
If this should occur you'll need to be in a rural location to avoid the obscuration of city lights. Over the next few days clouds should not interfere with viewing. However, even if all else were favorable, the light of the nearly full moon significantly diminishes chances of seeing an aurora, except within couple hours before moon set in the very early morning hours. Chances of seeing the northern lights are better in New England and the Great Lakes (not coincidentally locations farther north).


Huge solar flare jams radio, satellite signals: NASA
www.breitbart.com

A powerful solar eruption that triggered a huge geomagnetic storm has disturbed radio communications and could disrupt electrical power grids, radio and satellite communication in the next days, NASA said. A strong wave of charged plasma particles emanating from the Jupiter-sized sun spot, the most powerful seen in four years, has already disrupted radio communication in southern China.
The Class X flash -- the largest such category -- erupted at 0156 GMT Tuesday, according to the US space agency.
"X-class flares are the most powerful of all solar events that can trigger radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms," disturbing telecommunications and electric grids, NASA said Wednesday.
Geomagnetic storms usually last 24 to 48 hours -- but some could last for many days, read a statement from the US National Weather Service.
"Ground to air, ship to shore, short-wave broadcast and amateur radio are vulnerable to disruption during geomagnetic storms. Navigation systems like GPS can also be adversely affected."
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory said it saw a large coronal mass ejection (CME) associated with the flash blasting toward Earth at about 560 miles per second (900 kilometers per second).
The flare spread from Active Region 1158 in the sun's southern hemisphere, which had so far lagged behind the northern hemisphere in flash activity. It followed several smaller flares in recent days.
"The calm before the storm," read a statement on the US National Weather Service Space Weather Prediction Service.
"Three CMEs are enroute, all a part of the Radio Blackout events on February 13, 14, and 15 (UTC). The last of the three seems to be the fastest and may catch both of the forerunners about mid to late ... February 17."
The China Meteorological Administration reported that the solar flare caused "sudden ionospheric disturbances" in the atmosphere above China and jammed short-wave radio communications in the southern part of the country.
The CMA warned there was a high probability that large solar flares would appear over the next three days, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The British Geological Survey (BGS) said meanwhile that the solar storm would result in spectacular Northern Lights displays starting Thursday.
One coronal mass ejection reached Earth on February 14, "sparking Valentine's Day displays of the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) further south than usual."
"Two CMEs are expected to arrive in the next 24-48 hours and further... displays are possible some time over the next two nights if skies are clear," it said.
The office published geomagnetic records dating back to the Victorian era which it hopes will help in planning for future storms.
"Life increasingly depends on technologies that didn't exist when the magnetic recordings began," said Alan Thomson, BGS head of geomagnetism.
"Studying the records will tell us what we have to plan and prepare for to make sure systems can resist solar storms," he said.
A 2009 report by a panel of scientists assembled by NASA said that a sustained and powerful solar flare outbreak could overwhelm high-voltage transformers with electrical currents and short-circuit energy grids. 

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