Patt Morrison for March 8, 2012

Here comes the Sun… and its geomagnetic storms, solar flares, and CMEs

NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory

93 million miles is almost too many miles to comprehend, but that’s how far it is from Earth to that beloved yellow dwarf star keeping our ecosystem humming along.

Despite such a distance, we Earthlings can still feel the Sun’s heat. But more importantly, we can feel the effects of what happens on its surface, including coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and solar flares. In fact, the fallout of a massive solar flare that erupted Tuesday evening has reached our atmosphere as of today. The effects of the storm have turned out to be a lot milder than many previously expected, meaning our GPS navigation systems, power grids, and flight schedules are safe... at least for now. We are only four years into the current 11-year solar cycle, so solar storms are expected to increase in both frequency and intensity. Scientists at NASA predict a peak in the frequency of solar activity around 2013 when it’s likely at least a couple of CMEs would reach Earth each week. While the storms may be most frequent in 2013, the intensity of storms won’t likely peak until around 2014.

Guest:

Alex Young, solar astrophysicist, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center


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