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Solar Storms- Coming to a Planet Near You

After a much desired vacation, well rested and ready for business, our Sun is back to work and the next couple of years may be very exciting ones here on earth.

In a statement from NASA dated June 4 th 2010 from a meeting held in Washington DC:

“The sun is waking up from a deep slumber, and in the next few years we expect to see much higher levels of solar activity.  At the same time, our technological society has developed an unprecedented sensitivity to solar storms.  The intersection of these two issues is what we’re getting together to discuss.”

The consensus of the attendees of this meeting was that the economic damage from solar storms could be 20 times the damage done by Hurricane Katrina.   CME (Massive Coronal Mass Ejection or Solar Eruption) striking the earth will  knock out  many, if not all, the high tech systems that we have come to rely on.

Some of these systems would include the satellites, that are responsible for communication and GPS ( Global Positioning System),  financial systems around the world that rely on computers, electrical grids could be shut down.  Society would be plunged back in time a hundred years.

In order to prepare for a solar flare or storm the government relies the expertise of two agencies, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration.   NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)  has been tasked with the responsibility of monitoring space weather, with the aid of NASA spacecraft.  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration maintains the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder Colo.   What is really interesting is NOAA’s websites where you can check for updates on space weather,the Space Weather Advisories- Advisory Outlooks website and  Space Weather Now site .

Using NASA spacecraft in orbit around the earth and, STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory) which are two spacecraft stationed on opposite sides of the sun to monitor solar activity.

The newest is SDO (the Solar Dynamics Observatory), which photographs solar areas that most active. This allows scientist to study solar eruptions.

ACE (Advanced Composition Explorer) sits between the earth and the sun and measures solar wind gusts and radiation storms.  This satellite gives earth a 30 minute warning before it the storm hits the earth.  This satellite is  sometimes called the suicide satellite, because it sits in the path of the storm and will most probably be destroyed in the event of  a massive direct hit from a solar storm.

Solar flares and minor storms are often witnessed as the aurora borealis or northern lights. A massive eruption would trigger a light show around the world.

In 1859 a major solar storm struck the earth.  A storm of  that magnitude  could paralyze the world today.    It was the most powerful solar storm ever recorded.  It is reported that the a massive coronal mass ejection (CME) of 1859, traveled to the earth in 18 hours, normally a trip of three or four days.

At that time the most advanced technology was the telegraph system and it was said that telegraph operators could sent signals without using electrical power usually needed and several were nearly executed.

For an idea what could happen is seen in this video.

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