NASA Warns of Super Solar Storm
The Most Intense Solar Maximum in Fifty Years

Solar Storm Warning
The Most Intense Solar Maximum in Fifty Years

It's official: Solar minimum has arrived. Sunspots have all but vanished. Solar flares are nonexistent. The sun is utterly quiet.
Researchers announced that a storm is coming--the most intense solar maximum in fifty years. The prediction comes from a team led by Mausumi Dikpati of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). "The next sunspot cycle will be 30% to 50% stronger than the previous one," she says. If correct, the years ahead could produce a burst of solar activity second only to the historic Solar Max of 1958.

"Like the quiet before a storm - the most intense solar maximum in fifty years"

A geomagnetic storm is a temporary disturbance of the Earth's magnetosphere caused by a disturbance in space weather.

Associated with solar coronal mass ejections (CME), coronal holes, or solar flares, a geomagnetic storm is caused by a solar wind shock wave which typically strikes the Earth's magnetic field 8 days after the event.

This only happens if the shock wave travels in a direction toward Earth. The solar wind pressure on the magnetosphere will increase or decrease depending on the Sun's activity.

These solar wind pressure changes modify the electric currents in the ionosphere. Magnetic storms usually last 24 to 48 hours, but some may last for many days.

In 1989, an electromagnetic storm disrupted power throughout most of Quebec, Canada and caused auroras as far south as Texas.

Scientists are beginning to understand a historic solar storm in 1859. One day, they say, it could happen again.

The solar wind also carries with it the magnetic field of the Sun. This field will have either a North or South orientation.

If the solar wind has energetic bursts, contracting and expanding the magnetosphere, or if the solar wind takes a southward polarization, geomagnetic storms can be expected.

The southward field causes magnetic reconnection of the dayside magnetopause, rapidly injecting magnetic and particle energy into the Earth's magnetosphere.

During a geomagnetic storm, the ionosphere's F2 layer will become unstable, fragment, and may even disappear. In the northern and southern pole regions of the Earth, auroras will be observable in the sky.

Intense solar flares release very-high-energy particles that can cause radiation poisoning to humans (and mammals in general) in the same way as low-energy radiation from nuclear blasts.

Earth's atmosphere and magnetosphere allow adequate protection at ground level, but astronauts in space are subject to potentially lethal doses of radiation.

The penetration of high-energy particles into living cells can cause chromosome damage, cancer, and a host of other health problems. Large doses can be fatal immediately.

Solar protons with energies greater than 30 MeV are particularly hazardous. In October 1989, the Sun produced enough energetic particles that, if an astronaut were to have been standing on the Moon at the time, wearing only a space suit and caught out in the brunt of the storm, would probably have died; the expected dose would be about 7000 rem.

Note that Astronauts who had time to gain safety in a shelter beneath moon soil would have absorbed only slight amounts of radiation.

Newly uncovered scientific data of recorded history's most massive space storm is helping a NASA scientist investigate its intensity and the probability that what occurred on Earth and in the heavens almost a century-and-a-half ago could happen again.

The cosmonauts on the Mir station were subjected to daily doses of about twice the yearly dose on the ground, and during the solar storm at the end of 1989 they absorbed their full-year radiation dose limit in just a few hours.

Solar proton events can also produce elevated radiation aboard aircraft flying at high altitudes.

Although these risks are small, monitoring of solar proton events by satellite instrumentation allows the occasional exposure to be monitored and evaluated, and eventually the flight paths and altitudes adjusted in order to lower the absorbed dose of the flight crews.

Current knowledge of coronal mass ejection kinematics indicates that the ejection starts with an initial pre-acceleration phase characterized by a slow rising motion, followed by a period of rapid acceleration away from the Sun until a near-constant velocity is reached.

Some balloon CMEs, usually the slowest ones, lack this three-stage evolution, instead accelerating slowly and continuously throughout their flight.

Even for CMEs with a well-defined acceleration stage, the pre-acceleration stage is often absent, or perhaps unobservable.

The Universe - Magnetic Storm

Temporary Disturbance of the Earth's Magnetosphere Caused by a
Disturbance in the Interplanetary Medium

Historical Occurrences

  • From August 28th until September 2nd, 1859, numerous sunspots and solar flares were observed on the sun, the largest flare occurring on September 1st. A massive CME headed directly at Earth due to the solar flare and made it within eighteen hours — a trip that normally takes three to four days.
  • On September 1st – 2nd, the largest recorded geomagnetic storm occurred. The horizontal intensity of geomagnetic field was reduced by 1600 nT as recorded by the Colaba observatory near Bombay, India. Telegraph wires in both the United States and Europe experienced induced emf, in some cases even shocking telegraph operators and causing fires.

    Auroras were seen as far south as Hawaii, Mexico, Cuba, and Italy — phenomena that are usually only seen near the poles. This was the 1859 solar superstorm.
  • On March 13th, 1989 a severe geomagnetic storm ca
    used the collapse of the Hydro-Québec power grid in a matter of seconds as equipment protection relays tripped in a cascading sequence of events.

    Six million people were left without power for nine hours, with significant economic loss. The storm even caused auroras as far south as Texas.

    The geomagnetic storm causing this event was itself the result of a coronal mass ejection, ejected from the Sun on March 9th, 1989.
  • Ice cores show evidence that events of similar intensity recur at an average rate of approximately once per 500 years. Since 1859, less severe storms have occurred in 1921 and 1960, when widespread radio disruption was reported.
  • In August 1989, another storm affected microchips, leading to a halt of all trading on Toronto's stock market.
  • Since 1989, power companies in North America, the UK, Northern Europe and elsewhere evaluated the risks of geomagnetically induced currents (GIC) and developed mitigation strategies.
  • Since 1995, geomagnetic storms and solar flares have been monitored from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) joint-NASA-European Space Agency satellite.
  • On February 26th, 2008 the magnetic fields erupted inside the magnetotail, releasing about 1015 Joules of energy. The blast launched two gigantic clouds of protons and electrons, one toward Earth and one away from Earth. The Earth-directed cloud crashed into the planet below, sparking vivid auroras in Canada and Alaska.

Communication Systems and Solar Storms

Many communication systems use the ionosphere to reflect radio signals over long distances. Ionospheric storms can affect radio communication at all latitudes.

Some radio frequencies are absorbed and others are reflected, leading to rapidly fluctuating signals and unexpected propagation paths.

TV and commercial radio stations are little affected by solar activity, but ground-to-air, ship-to-shore, shortwave  broadcast, and amateur radio (mostly the bands below 30 MHz) are frequently disrupted.

Radio operators using HF bands rely upon solar and geomagnetic alerts to keep their communication circuits up and running.

Geomagnetic storms and increased solar ultraviolet  emission heat Earth's upper atmosphere, causing it to expand. The heated air rises, and the density at the orbit of satellites  up to about 1,000 km (621 miles) increases significantly.

This results in increased drag on satellites in space, causing them to slow and change orbit slightly. Unless Low Earth Orbit satellites are routinely boosted to higher orbits, they slowly fall, and eventually burn up in Earth's atmosphere.

Massive Solar Storms

Step inside the eye of a solar storm and the measures scientists take to predict them.

Power companies which operate long transmission lines (many kilometers in length) are thus subject to damage by this effect.

When magnetic fields move about in the vicinity of a conductor such as a wire, a geomagnetically induced current is produced in the conductor.

This happens on a grand scale during geomagnetic storms (the same mechanism also influences telephone and telegraph lines) on all long transmission lines.

Power companies which operate long transmission lines (many kilometers in length) are thus subject to damage by this effect.

Notably, this chiefly includes operators in China, North America, and Australia; the European grid consists mainly of shorter transmission cables, which are less vulnerable to damage.

Rapidly fluctuating geomagnetic fields can produce geomagnetically induced currents  in pipelines. This can cause multiple problems for pipeline engineers. Flow meters in the pipeline can transmit erroneous flow information, and the corrosion  rate of the pipeline is dramatically increased.

If engineers incorrectly attempt to balance the current during a geomagnetic storm, corrosion rates may increase even more. Once again, pipeline managers thus receive space weather alerts and warnings to allow them to implement defensive measures.