Strong solar storms to wreak havoc in northern latitudesgreenspun.com : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread
Saturday, November 25 2:05 PM SGT
Strong solar storms to wreak havoc in northern latitudes WASHINGTON, Nov 25 (AFP) - Across the United States this weekend, fire alarms and anti-theft devices may be triggered for no reason, pictures on television screens may flicker and fade to black, and entire communities could be plunged into sudden darkness.
Such unusual goings-on things could result from what scientists describe as a wave of major geomagnetic storms expected to strike beginning late Saturday and last for several days.
In an alert issued Friday, the US government's Space Environment Center said "a major solar flare from a large, active sunspot group" was observed on the Sun from Boulder, Colorado, last Thursday, at 8:13 am local time (1513 GMT), likely producing "additional major events."
The solar radiation storms and strong geomagnetic storms categorized by the center as "G3", officials said.
Under such storms "power system voltage corrections may be required, false alarms triggered on some protection devices, surface charging may occur on satellite components, drag may increase on low-Earth- orbit satellites, and corrections may be needed for orientation problems," the center pointed out.
The list of possible calamities doesn't end there, however.
The storm wave could cause interruptions in navigation satellite communications and become a real headache for high-frequency ham radio operators, according to the center.
"In the worst case scenario, power can be lost," Norman Cohen, a space environment forecaster with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told AFP.
He said failures of power grids were more likely to occur "at higher latitudes in both hemispheres," but the geomagnetic storms -- to continue for at least several days -- would affect the whole planet.
"It will be global event. And we won't know the magnitude until it actually starts," Cohen stressed.
He said the flare observed on the surface of the Sun on Thursday has spawned a large cloud of plasma, which is heading towards the Earth.
"From its appearance, we have been able to determine that it was Earth-directed," Cohen explained. "It will be a major event."
The magnitude of the storms was expected to reach six or seven on a scale of nine, according to the forecaster.
As a result, orbiting satellites may experience "some orientation problems" and "will need correction from ground control," Cohen said.
That may affect some communications, but television networks and cellular phones should be working normally, said the forecaster. If interruptions were to occur, they should be brief.
Power grids, however, may be worst-equipped to withstand the geomagnetic onslaught from space.
In 1989, most of the power grid in the Canadian province of Quebec went down for an expended period of time due to such a storm, Cohen reminded.
On the bright side, night-time skywatchers in areas far beyond the Arctic could be treated to a spectacle they have never seen before.
Aurora Borealis, otherwise known as Northern Lights, could be seen in North America as far south as the US states of Oregon and Illinois, the center said.
"Most of Europe will be able to see it too," added Cohen.
He said in Illinois and Oregon, the aurora will probably be visible starting at around midnight Saturday. In Europe, it is most likely to be detected on Sunday and following days after dark.
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-- Spaceman (-@ready.or.not.here.they.come), November 26, 2000
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Contra Costa Times Published Saturday, November 25, 2000
5 solar storms likely to disrupt power grids
Radio and other transmissions will also be affected this weekend, and the northern lights could be pulled farther south
By Seth Borenstein KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
WASHINGTON -- Earth is likely to be bombarded with an unusual rapid-fire blast from five solar storms that could disrupt power grids, communications and airplane navigation in the northern United States today and Sunday, space weather forecasters warned Friday.
But they said the same machine gun-like geomagnetic blasts also could pull the spectacular northern lights sky show farther south, where more people will be able to see the colored lights dance in the northern sky.
There's an 80 percent chance that the storms will cause minor to severe disruptions to satellite communications, radio and television transmissions and electric power grids, said the Space Environment Center, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The "storms" are strong surges of solar wind -- electrically charged subatomic particles from the sun -- that make changes in the Earth's magnetic field, much like charging a small magnet with an electrical current.
There's a 40 percent chance the storms will cause major or severe disruptions and a 40 percent chance their effects will be minor.
"We've got five different opportunities to get hammered," said forecaster Bill Murtagh of the Space Environment Center in Boulder, Colo.
That's what makes this storm warning so different from the usual blasts during this season of high solar activity.
The extended duration of the five bombardments is likely to cause more disruption than a single stronger storm, because "the longer this stuff affects a system, the harder it is on a system," said forecaster Larry Combs, also from the center in Boulder.
"We've had several flares and coronal mass ejections in the past 36 hours, and if that continues, the constant bombardment of the Earth by the enhanced solar wind could affect power systems and satellites," Combs said.
The ill effects -- mostly disruptions in radio and power grids being tripped by massive amounts of incoming magnetic particles -- will be limited to more northern parts of the country, Combs said.
Satellites around the globe could be knocked around by the particles and "some intermittent problems could be expected," Combs said.
The first storm, the second weakest of the five, may cause intermittent problems around 3 p.m. PST Saturday, and the second storm, the weakest, is due two hours later.
The next storm, the second strongest, should strike around 11 a.m. PST Sunday, and the fourth storm, the most powerful of them all, is expected around noon Sunday, they said.
The last storm, just discovered late Friday, should reach Earth at about 5 p.m. PST Sunday, and should be almost as strong as the two that precede it.
The best chance for people to see the aurora borealis, the colorful flickering often called the northern lights, probably will be when the third storm hits Earth, Murtagh said.
At that time, people as far south as North Carolina, Illinois and Colorado may see what is usually visible only to people much farther north, Combs said.
The first of the storms spewed away from the sun late Thursday. They take a few days to reach Earth even though they're racing at 1 to 3 million miles an hour.
-- Bill Griffith (Griffy@the.observatory), November 26, 2000.