A sunspot, 62,000 miles across – so big it would dwarf the Earth – is releasing gigantic solar flares that could in theory wreak havoc with electrical communications ranging from handheld electronics such as iPhones to sections of the power grid.
Nasa has detected two X-class solar eruptions from 1302 – the most extreme possible – in the past week. One that occurred on September 24 produced an amazing light show over England last night – but it’s far from over, as the sunspot isn’t yet directly aligned with Earth.
NASA experts have said ‘anything electrical’ can be affected by such activity.
Known as ‘Active Region 1302’, it is producing bursts of radiation so intense that spectacular auroras, caused by the sun’s particles hitting the atmosphere, have been seen as far south as Oxfordshire.
Astronomer Dr Ian Griffin, CEO of Science Oxford, told MailOnline: ‘Active Region 1302 is the source of all of the auroras seen yesterday, and may well be the source of some more auroras over the next few nights.
The last really bad solar storm we experienced was way back in 1859.
On September 1–2, 1859, the largest recorded geomagnetic storm occurred. Aurorae were seen around the world, most notably over the Caribbean; also noteworthy were those over the Rocky Mountains that were so bright that their glow awoke gold miners, who began preparing breakfast because they thought it was morning. According to professor Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado’sLaboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, “people in the northeastern U.S. could read newspaper print just from the light of the aurora.“
Telegraph systems all over Europe and North America failed, in some cases even shocking telegraph operators.Telegraph pylons threw sparks and telegraph paper spontaneously caught fire. Some telegraph systems appeared to continue to send and receive messages despite having been disconnected from their power supplies.
Just think of the havoc a storm like that could wreak today with all the electronics that we depend upon. This could be the end of civilization.
On the other hand, I’ve never seen the Northern Lights before. It would be really cool to see them as far south as Indiana.
- For your viewing pleasure: Active Region 1302 (blogs.discovermagazine.com)
- NASA warns of geomagnetic storm after behemoth solar flare (networkworld.com)
- Huge sun storm may super-charge northern lights (msnbc.msn.com)