Saturday, March 10, 2012

Solar Flares, 03.08.12

It seems like everyone is buzzing about solar flares. We even had a bit of a scare this morning with our power cutting out a few times. Are the flares really to blame, though? Let us take a look.
Credit: NASA/SDO.
Solar flares are a sort of burp created by a star when energy concentrates and bubbles in one place, eventually erupting out in a CME, or Coronal Mass Ejection. CMEs send out massive amounts of magnetic, radio, and radiation emissions. In ex­treme cases, solar flares have caused interruptions in commu­nications and blackouts. Just last year, solar storms made communications for some airplanes and ships difficult over some parts of Alaska and the Pacific. With genuine CME-caused damage, though, the effects are usually very widespread, and last longer than just a power outage of a few minutes.
Do not get us wrong, there is an honest to goodness major so­lar storm going on right now. has some excellent photos and footage of it. Sunspot AR1429 has been spewing some major emissions, and scientists have been ex­pecting this. The spot has been tracked ever since last month when it was on the far side of the sun, even then creating spikes in energy readings.
Scientists have known for a long time these flares were com­ing, and in fact, some have even been let down. Some are say­ing the flare is actually weaker then they had expected.
So, what does this all mean for us? For one, the classic line “do not panic.” We are all still here, and we are not likely to be plunged back into the dark ages. For another, it is not likely that the power outages experienced around town today can be blamed on this flare. Solar flares are the rock stars of outer space. They do major, widespread damage when they come to town, and we just are not seeing that with this flare. Most likely the power outages were caused by overheating and burn­out in our local power grid. Lastly, auroras: there is a very slim chance you could see some sort of aurora activity in the night sky. We make no guarantees, though. Most likely, those people further north would be able to see it better. If you want to give it a shot, though, travel out into the country tonight and look towards the northern sky. You may be able to see the greenish opalescence of the auroras, commonly known as the “northern lights.” If you do, send us a picture! We will be keeping our eyes peeled, too.
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