If you woke
up this morning wondering why your GPS and shortwave radio communications
equipment was still working after the alert posted by the NOAA,
NASA and other space weather agencies, it's likely because the X2
Solar Flare that was scheduled to cause geomagnetic
storms didn't live up to expectations:
A wave of
charged plasma particles from a huge solar eruption has glanced
off the Earth's northern pole, lighting up auroras and disrupting
some radio communications, a NASA scientist said.
But the Earth
appears to have escaped a widespread geomagnetic storm, with the
effects confined to the northern latitudes, possibly reaching
down into Norway and Canada.
be sporadic outages based on particular small-scale events," said
Dean Persnell, project scientist at NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory
at Goddard Space Flight Center.
He told AFP
the official forecast is "for generally quiet conditions today,
perhaps some minor storming tomorrow, but nothing extraordinary."
the worst, the US National Weather Service's Space Weather Prediction
Service warned it was "the calm before the storm."
said the spiraling beam of solar particles from Tuesday's eruption
was passing behind the Earth without making a direct hit.
case, it appears it will curve around and not hit us," he said.
He said satellite
data "shows that the CME is quieting down and so there is not
a whole lot left to it. So it's moved well behind us by now,"
But he said
solar activity is on the upswing, and more CMEs will follow.
STORY POSTED THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2011:
The NOAA Space
Weather Prediction Center is advising that a powerful X-class solar
flare is on its way to Earth. Charged plasma particles are expected
to reach earth today.
Meteorological Administration reported that the solar
flare had jammed shortwave radio communications in southern China.
It said the
flare caused "sudden ionospheric disturbances" in the atmosphere
above China, and warned there was a high probability that
large solar flares would appear over the next three days,
the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Weather Service in Anchorage, AK, in a public
information statement, advises that the approaching storm could
affect satellite, radio and other electronics equipment:
WEATHER SERVICE HAS ANNOUNCED THAT THERE IS A HIGH PROBABILITY
OF A SIGNIFICANT GEOMAGNETIC STORM OCCURRING FROM FEBRUARY 17
2011 THROUGH FEBRUARY 20 2011.
STORM LEVELS ARE EXPECTED, WITH A CHANCE OF G3 (STRONG) CONDITIONS
AT TIMES. DEFINITIONS FOR THESE STORM LEVELS MAY BE FOUND AT HTTP://WWW.SWPC.NOAA.GOV/NOAASCALES/.
GEOMAGNETIC STORMS USUALLY LAST 24-48 HOURS, BUT SOME MAY LAST
FOR MANY DAYS. GROUND-TO-AIR, SHIP-TO-SHORE, SHORTWAVE BROADCAST,
AND AMATEUR RADIO ARE VULNERABLE TO DISRUPTION DURING GEOMAGNETIC
STORMS. NAVIGATION SYSTEMS LIKE GPS CAN ALSO BE ADVERSELY AFFECTED.
MARINERS SHOULD USE CAUTION WHEN NAVIGATING DURING THIS TIME PERIOD
AND NOT RELY EXCLUSIVELY ON GPS.
joint report released by U.S. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, Space
Weather Prediction Center and the U.S. Air Force, continued activity
can be expected for the next 72 hours:
Forecast: Solar activity is expected to be moderate with a chance
for an isolated major flare for the next three days (17-19 February).
Region 1158 is expected to produce more M-class flares and still
has the potential for producing an M5 or greater x-ray event.
Activity Forecast: The geomagnetic field is expected to be predominately
quiet on day one (February 17). An increase to unsettled to active
conditions, with a chance for minor storm periods is expected
late on day one into day two (18 February). The increased activity
is forecast due to the expected arrival of the CME associated
with the X2 flare that occurred on 15/0156Z. Day three (19 February)
is expected to be quiet to active as the disturbance subsides.
The NWS refers
to this particular wave of solar activity as moderate,
though significant, so the general population need not be alarmed
that it is a TEOTWAWKI-type event.
sun is unpredictable, and the NOAA / Space Weather Prediction Center
warns that activity may continue to heat up in the region where
the current flare headed for earth originated:
is expected to produce more M-class flares and still has the potential
for producing an M5 or greater x-ray event.
are classified as A, B, C, M or X according to the peak flux (in
watts per square meter, W/m2) of 100 to 800 picometer X-rays near
Earth, as measured on the GOES spacecraft. Each class has a peak
flux ten times greater than the preceding one, with X class flares
having a peak flux of order 10-4 W/m2. Within a class there is
a linear scale from 1 to 9, so an X2 flare is twice as powerful
as an X1 flare, and is four times more powerful than an M8 flare.
The more powerful M and X class flares are often associated with
a variety of effects on the near-Earth space environment. Although
the GOES classification is commonly used to indicate the size
of a flare, it is only one measure.
logarithmic classification is necessary because the total energies
of flares range over many orders of magnitude, following a uniform
distribution with flare frequency roughly proportional to the
inverse of the total energy. Stellar flares and earthquakes show
similar power-law distributions.
While the X2
flare currently en route to Earth should not cause any significant
damage, other than communications jamming and delays, it has been
long argued that a power solar flare, like those that hit earth
or more recently the 1989
geo-magnetic storm that affected millions in Quebec, Canada,
could take out the globe's modern day power and communications grids,
sending the majority of the developed world back into the stone
woefully under prepared for a looming natural disaster with the
potential to be much worse than Hurricane Katrina, warns disaster
expert Lawrence E. Joseph. Scientists believe a solar storm of
a size not seen since 1921 is likely to hit the earth after solar
activity picks up in 2012, sending out an electromagnetic pulse
that could fry transformers and put electricity grids offline
for months, Joseph writes in the New York Times.
As we approach
an intense period of solar activity in late 2012 and into 2013,
scientists at the US Space Weather Prediction Center and other agencies
are keeping a close eye on the sun. The SHTF plan in place for this
scenario is that if a large enough flare or approaching storm is
identified, emergency response teams will shut down portions of
the US power grid and other necessary electronic nodes to prevent
a potentially irreparable down-grid resulting from short circuiting
and blown transformers.
This is good
news for the general well being of the planet, and the fact that
the NOAA is able to get the message out about the current X2 flare
suggests that modern technology, which was not available in 1989,
may actually be able to prevent a catastrophic situation resulting
from sun activity.