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Solar Storm May Ground Aircraft, Overload Power Grids

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User ID: 163762
12/14/2006 10:50 PM
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Solar Storm May Ground Aircraft, Overload Power Grids
The severe geomagnetic storm bombarding the Earth on Thursday was expected to disrupt radio, television and cell-phone communications worldwide and could force airlines to reroute passenger flights that normally fly over the North Pole.

Power-grid operators will have to make sure their systems do not overload from induced current, and satellites in close Earth orbits will need to have their positions constantly monitored as the atmosphere expands from the additional heat and frictional drag increases.

"It's really hitting the Earth's magnetic field pretty hard," Joseph Kunches, lead forecaster at the NOAA Space Environment Center in Boulder, Colo., told FOXNews.com. "It's already affected HF [high-frequency] radio on the other side of the globe, as well as the astronauts aboard the ISS [international space station]."

As Kunches spoke, the Space Environment Center's atmospheric magnetic sensors oscillated wildly, meaning that the charge of the particles hitting the planet swung drastically between positive and negative.

A large sunspot, dubbed number 930, ejected a major X-3 category solar flare late Tuesday, blanketing two astronauts at the end of a spacewalk with X-rays within minutes.

A few hours later, a wave of accelerated protons hit the space station and attached space shuttle Discovery, but the astronauts were already sheltered behind protective bulkheads and airlocks.

Earthbound organisms and electronics were in no danger from those initial waves, but at about 8:45 a.m. EST Thursday, about 36 hours after the initial flare, a slow-moving coronal mass ejection — basically a strong solar-wind gust of subatomic particles plus a large magnetic field — began hitting the planet.

"It's not the worst-case scenario," Kunches explained. "It's not as bad as, say, the Halloween storm of 2003, but it will probably cause the auroras to move toward the Equator tonight, meaning that the northern lights may be visible from the continental United States.

"Airlines will also have to think about whether it's safe to fly the polar routes," he added. "They might have to consider flying at lower altitudes, or not flying over the poles at all."

The Earth's magnetic field is like a doughnut encircling the planet, and deflects most charged particles that arrive from space.

However, since the "holes" of the doughnut plunge into the Earth at the north and south magnetic poles, a certain amount of space radiation penetrates the atmosphere deeply, even hitting the surface, at those locations.

Humans inside airplanes flying high over the magnetic poles are thus exposed to elevated levels of cosmic radiation even under normal space-weather conditions. During a severe geomagnetic storm, it might not be worth getting off the ground.

"There's still no one answer for what a 'safe' amount of radiation would be," Kunches said.

He added that the technological implications of the storm were more clearly defined.

"As the solar wind hits the atmosphere, it expands," he explained, "which increases the frictional drag on satellites traveling around the Earth. Ground-based operators will have to keep track of their positions, which will be further complicated by radio-signal interference from the storm."

Regional electrical networks are at risk as well.

"Induced current will enter power grids," said Kunches, "and operators will have to make sure their systems don't overload."

Thanks to the terrestrial magnetosphere, the overall effect on biological organisms will be little.

That wouldn't be the case, though, for astronauts staffing a future Moon base.

"If, 20 years from now, the same sort of storm were to hit a Moon base," said Kunches, "the impact upon people there would be very much worse. They'd have no magnetic field to protect them."

[link to www.foxnews.com]
theresident (OP)

User ID: 163762
12/14/2006 10:51 PM
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Re: Solar Storm May Ground Aircraft, Overload Power Grids
Solar Storm Pounds Earth's Atmosphere
Last Edited: Thursday, 14 Dec 2006, 7:05 PM MST

If you noticed problems with your GPS or satellite TV Thursday, you're not alone. A solar storm pounding the earth's atmosphere was to blame.

Scientists at Boulder's NOAA tracking facility had their hands full all day long.

NOAA Space Weather Forecaster Larry Combs explains, "The atmosphere is starting to change around the earth."

Solar weather experts kept an eye on that change all day Thursday at the NOAA space environment center in Boulder.

The sun kicked up a massive solar flare Tuesday, whose wind hit the earth Thursday morning.

The geomagnetic storm, which was forecasted to be severe -- with potential to cause disruptions to GPS devices, some cell phones, air traffic communications, and even navigation systems on the space shuttle -- is expected to continue through the night.

This solar activity has scientists’ attention here because this solar activity is happening at a low point in the solar cycle.

The solar storm could cause northern lights to appear as far south as Montana, Illinois and possibly even Wyoming.

[link to www.myfoxcolorado.com]
theresident (OP)

User ID: 163762
12/14/2006 10:55 PM
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Re: Solar Storm May Ground Aircraft, Overload Power Grids
Solar flare blasts across Earth's atmosphere

Updated Thu. Dec. 14 2006 10:49 PM ET

CTV.ca News Staff

A solar flare, a violent explosion in the Sun's atmosphere, is hurtling past the Earth at over one million kilometres per hour -- offering up a potentially brilliant light show while threatening to damage power grids and communications systems.

Star gazers in Canada and across the northern U.S. could be treated to a spectacular light show called an aurora, or Northern Lights, as early as Thursday night.

Images beamed from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (the SOHO space probe) showed a bright flash near the Sun's equator overnight. Several of SOHO's sensors became temporarily overwhelmed by the amount of radiation emitted by the flares.

Solar flares, known as coronal mass ejections, carry with them many protons and electrons which reach the Earth's magnetosphere, said McGill University physics Professor Robert Rutledge, "where it produces quite an auroral show which we should see tonight as far south as Boston and as far west as Victoria."

The danger

But these solar flares also send out clouds of charged particles that could damage communication systems and power grids.

Satellite operators and power grid managers have been advised to keep an eye on the solar storm over the next few days.

"There are actually very serious implications with possibilities for enormous current to take place in the atmosphere, which could then short up power stations," said Rutledge.

A solar storm on March 13, 1989 jolted Hydro Quebec and left six million people without power for up to nine hours.

Airliners on routes over the Arctic sometimes have to be diverted south, since the Earth's magnetic field offers less protection near the poles.

The storm is also a threat to satellites.

"If you bombard any electric equipment with protons and electrons travelling 1,000 kilometres a second, it can affect the computer systems and it could take some of them out," said Rutledge.

An important, unknown component to the storm is its magnetic orientation. If it lines up a certain way with the Earth's magnetic field, the storm could pour into the Earth's upper atmosphere and do some electrical damage. If it aligns otherwise it could simply pass by the planet with few consequences.

Astronauts alerted

NASA said the solar storm will not affect the current shuttle mission schedule.

Joe Kunches, lead forecaster at the NOAA Space Environment Center, told SPACE.com Thursday afternoon that astronauts aboard the International Space Station are not expected to be put at additional risk.

Still, the astronauts today were instructed to sleep in sections that are well-shielded from radiation.

Here on Earth, Rutledge said the magnetosphere and atmosphere do a good job absorbing much of the solar storm's blow. But he did warn Canadians to have some extra candles and blankets on hand -- just in case of a power outage.

What causes them

There's some mystery as to what exactly causes them, but Rutledge says they are related to the sun's magnetic field, which is tied to its core.

"As the sun rotates it can wind its magnetic field up very tightly -- producing a big, dense ball of magnetic energy. That ball rises to the surface, bursting through and breaking through the surface. That's what gives us the solar flare."

The biggest solar explosion ever recorded erupted from the Sun's surface on Nov. 4, 2003.

The blast sent billions of tons of superhot gas into space, some of it directed towards Earth, but it did no damage.

[link to www.ctv.ca]
User ID: 142889
12/14/2006 10:57 PM
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Re: Solar Storm May Ground Aircraft, Overload Power Grids
What about the X1?
theresident (OP)

User ID: 163762
12/14/2006 10:59 PM
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Re: Solar Storm May Ground Aircraft, Overload Power Grids
All these articles were written before the new X-flare.

That's still fairly recent. Could be more yet.