We may be facing another surge in solar storms as the sun arrives at the most tempestuous period of its eleven year cycle. Soon the sun could be hurtling huge electrically charged storms to Earth in waves the likes of which we haven’t seen in years. And given recent trends in solar storms that may be saying something. Is the big one just around the corner?
The storms, which scientists are attempting to make sense of in time, are expected to potentially have some far reaching effects if they get worse. This all comes on the heels of an incredibly fast burst of energy from the sun’s surface. The March 3 coronal mass ejection sent charged particles hurtling to the Earth’s ionosphere, but the actual impact of the storm wasn’t nearly as much as had been expected. Still, in its wake some have warned that we are more vulnerable as the sun continues to send out waves.
Of course this heightened activity ‘season’ for the sun isn’t expected to finally peak until 2013, a year when some of the most intense solar storms are expected to occur. While the storms aren’t expected to cause any direct danger to people, it may indirectly disrupt communication and knock out power infrastructure on a wide scale. The intense problems that would be caused by a solar storm to satellites could then in turn make it so television, cell phones, and weather monitoring systems went down all over the globe for a period of time. NASA warned in 2010 that 2013 could be a big year for solar events.
The most widely remembered major solar event that disrupted communication occurred in 1859 and is most widely remembered as “The Carrington Event.” It was one of the most substantial disruptions of the Earth’s magnetic field due to solar storms in recorded history. The event was so profound that the electrical contacts of many telegraph systems burned up and some were said to even catch fire from the excess electrical energy. At the time the event wasn’t quite world changing as communities relied on technology far less than they do now. Unfortunately, if something like the Carrington event took place today, it may have much farther reaching and devastating consequences. The full extent of the sun’s indirect destructive force has never been unleashed on the various satellites orbiting the planet, but some are worried about what this latest storm might hold in store for Earth.
Of course the cycle of solar maximums and minimums has come and gone several times in the past since the 1859 event, and so the intensity of the 1859 solar storm should be considered the exception and not the rule. But with more satellites than ever before, and many of those with insufficient protection against such an event of this nature, many are feeling global communication is increasingly vulnerable.