What is so fascinating and terrifying about a sun flare is how easily one could send us humans back into the dark ages. It could create an EM pulse that could fry electronic circuitry without a sound or visual cue that anything just occurred.
NBC has a new show coming out this season called Revolution. Is life going to imitate art? Nature’s way of balancing everything out? It’s a scary possibility because many would not survive without technology. Even the simple task of having clean water would kill millions.
Earth has had merely a handful of near misses that were powerful enough to create a world portrayed in that television show. But it would only take one to create that world.
What is a Solar Flare?
A solar flare is a sudden brightening observed over the Sun’s surface ejecting a cloud of intense particles into space. These clouds typically reach Earth a day or two after the event. The term is also used to refer to similar phenomena in other stars, where the term stellar flare applies.
Solar flares affect all layers of the solar atmosphere, producing radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum at all wavelengths, from radio waves to gamma rays. Although most of the energy goes to frequencies outside the visual range and for this reason a majorities of the flares are not visible to the naked eye and must be observed with special instruments. Flares occur in active regions around sunspots and are powered by the sudden release of magnetic energy stored in the corona. The same energy releases may produce coronal mass ejections (CME), although the relation between CMEs and flares is still not well established.
X-rays and UV radiation emitted by solar flares can affect Earth's ionosphere. This can disrupt long-range radio communications, direct radio emission, and may disturb operation of radars and other devices operating at these frequencies. Massive solar flares have been known to knock out electric power for extended periods of time.
The frequency of occurrence of solar flares varies, from several per day when the Sun is particularly "active" to less than one every week when the Sun is "quiet", following the 11-year solar cycle. Most proton storms take two or more hours from the time of visual detection to reach Earth's orbit. A solar flare on January 20, 2005 released the highest concentration of protons ever directly measured, taking only 15 minutes after observation to reach Earth, indicating a velocity of approximately one-third light speed, giving astronauts as little as 15 minutes to reach shelter.
Although there is a general agreement on the flares' causes, the details are still not well known. It is not clear how the magnetic energy is transformed into the particle kinetic energy, nor it is known how the particles are accelerated to energies as high as 10 MeV (Mega ElectronVolt) and beyond. We are unable to forecast flares, even to this day.
Solar flares 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.
Classification Peak Flux Range at 100-800 picometer (Watts/square meter]
A < 10-7
B 10-7 - 10-6
C 10-6 - 10-5
M 10-5 - 10-4
X > 10-4
Solar flares strongly influence the local space weather in the vicinity of the Earth. Energetic particles in the magnetosphere contribute to the aurora borealis.
The radiation risks posed by coronal mass ejections are a major concern in discussions of a manned mission to Mars, the moon, or other planets. Energetic protons can pass through the human body, causing biochemical damage, and hence present a hazard to astronauts during interplanetary travel. Some kind of physical or magnetic shielding would be required to protect the astronauts.
In the Past
The sun unleashed an X1.8 class flare that began at 1:12 PM ET on January 27, 2012 and peaked at 1:37. The flare immediately caused a strong radio blackout at low-latitudes, which was rated an R3 on NOAA's scale from R1-5. The blackout soon subsided to a minor R1 storm. Models from NASA's Goddard Space Weather Center predict that the CME is traveling at over 1500 miles per second. It does not initially appear to be Earth-directed, but Earth may get a glancing blow.
Initial movies from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) look as though there was an eruption and CME associated with the event, and NOAA’s GOES satellite also detected a solar energetic particle (SEP) event a half hour after the flare peak.
NASA calls these past intense solar flares as “Hot Shots”.
Here are some links to some incredible footage of these “Hot Shots”.
This is a good website for all sorts of space information including near Earth Asteroid Misses, which by the way we have an extremely close call coming by on June 29th. 499,721.3 km from earth, a 24m asteroid will pass by. Our moons average distance from the Earth is 384,399 km, that’s 238,854 miles. However the Moon's orbit is elliptical and the distance therefore varies during its orbit, to 405,696 km (252,088 miles) at its furthest. You can also track satellites through this site. http://spaceweather.com/
This site has a lot of technical data, all about sun spots. http://sunspotwatch.com/
This site also monitors sun spots for HAM operators, who are greatly affected by solar activity. http://www.solarham.com/
This is NASA’s solar events page. http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sunearth/multimedia/Solar-Events.html
This page is where NASA’s Heliophysics department studies the Sun, Heliosphere, and Planetary Environments as a single connected system is the goal of the Science Mission Directorate's Heliophysics Research Program. http://science.nasa.gov/heliophysics/
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