More on the Solar Storm

There are some pictures of the active region at discovermagazine.com as well as some information here and here.

I hope they don’t mind if I use this picture, but I thought it was interesting.

See how small the Earth is compared to a sunspot.

Here is a picture of the whole region.

And a warning.

That region is pretty feisty, and the odds of us getting more flares from those spots are pretty good. The Sun’s rotation is currently taking them toward the center of the disk, where a good sized explosion is then directed toward us, and particle waves from the blast can then interact more efficiently with our magnetic field. We may be getting aurorae from them, and if things go well that’s all we’ll get! A big blast can damage satellites, and even put astronauts on the ISS at risk. We on the ground are pretty safe, since the Earth’s air absorbs the radiation — that’s why we have to launch satellites like SDO into space, so they can detect that energy in the first place!

However, a big blast can shake the Earth’s magnetic field, inducing a current in the ground that can actually overload power lines. We can get blackouts from such things, and it’s happened before. This is a real problem that can do millions or even billions of dollars of infrastructure damage (including money in the economy lost during the blackout). I know a lot of solar physicists are concerned about this eventuality, and are trying to get both the power companies and the government to take it seriously. I hope they do. We’re still approaching the peak of the solar cycle sometime in mid-2013 or so, and flares like the one Saturday will most likely be more common.

Although, I am actually glad the Sun is getting more active. There were practically no sunspots during the period known as the Maunder Minimum, from 1645-1715, which coincided with the Little Ice Age. This last solar cycle, the Sun seemed to be a little too quiet and there was some speculation that we might be entering into another minimum.

Here is a chart of sunspot activity over the last few centuries. It is probably a better indicator of global climate changes than human carbon emissions, but don’t tell Al Gore that.

 

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