After the massive solar flare that occurred on the 15th of February and March 9th of this year, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found themselves doing a double take at data streaming in from the SOHO space observatory. And this latest X class flare, which was seven times larger than the last two which each elicited responses of awe and wonder from space-watchers, has caused power and phone companies to make preparations for an event that could hit the 10th or 11th of August if Earth is hit by the glancing blow of a CME.
The sun has been showing a tremendous amount of power in recent months, but it’s incredibly rare to see such powerful energy erupting from the sun so close to Earth that we may actually be seeing strong effects in our electrical grid. And while power companies are not expecting a massive power loss, they are preparing for one nonetheless. You may recall earlier this week we brought you coverage of a series of solar flares that had erupted and were expected to hit Earth all at the same time on the 6th of August – even prompting a video from the NOAA explaining what might happen. And now even in the midst of this current catastrophe, we can’t help but wonder what might be coming next.
A catastrophic interruption of the power grid due to solar activity is not entirely unheard of. During the 1859 solar storm, often referred to as the “Carrington Event,” devices hooked into even a simple cable spanning between towns collected enough power to short out telegraphs and even cause them to catch fire. And when we combine the possibility of a Carrington style event with the vast network of wires spanning a significantly higher portion of the world, the posibility for power interruptions that could last weeks, months, or even years is far more harrowing than before. But some have suggested it is unlikely as power companies work constantly to ensure power interruptions from geomagnetic storms do not take place. But in the event of a solar flare such as this X-7, we will have to simply wait and see.
The previous event, which was made up of three different M class solar flares (each a class lower than the X class flare, and of considerably smaller size) caused the previously “Northern Lights” to migrate as far south as Michigan, being photographed in several northern states by witnesses who had not been expecting such an incredible phenomenon so far from Alaska.
And so we have to ask ourselves what may lie in store for us in the future with the sun acting so dramatically in recent days. Will we see more flares in the future? And what might those bring in a time when economic and political uncertainty is already on everyone’s mind.