Monday, February 13, 2012

Solar Storms, Now and Then

If you are planning a road trip in May 2013, you might want to consider rescheduling or at least, plan on taking a paper atlas with you rather than depend on your GPS. At some point in mid-2013, our sun will reach solar max, the period of the highest sun spot activity.  It has a nine to 14 year cycle. So the last time when we were in solar max was around the year 2000. The solar activity can knock out satellites, cause us to lose them for a short time and quite possibly cause them to malfunction or disable them indefinitely. We now have a lot more technology dependent on these satellites than we had in 2000.  The solar max expected in 2013 is not expected to be one of the biggest, not even as big as the one in 2000, but some of our worse solar storms have been during smaller solar maxes. Considering how strained our power grid is these days, this could be a time that we could be without power for awhile.  On the flipside, it could be that we don't even notice it.

The biggest solar storm ever on record occurred in 1859.  At the time, ships lost the use of magnetic compasses for a short time. Also, some telegraph towers or telegraph machines had power surges causing fires and explosions.  During that storm, the aurora borealis (aka the Northern Light) were reportedly seen from the equator.  People in New York City could read the newspapers during the mid of the night from this light without a problem.   Other years we had sun storm problems were 1921 and 1960 when widespread radio outages were reported.

A few years ago, I was camping in GaspĂ©, Quebec.  I was having the worst difficult time making a fire when I noticed the dancing lights in the sky.  We lost interest in the fire and pulled up our chairs and watched the show.  I cannot wait to see them again.  I might not even have to travel this time.

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