Solar Flare 2011: X-class flare may shut down communications

Northern Lights

Sure, solar flare 2011 may be shutting down communications across the world, but the Northern Lights are especially pretty. Image: Flickr / erlendaa / CC-BY-ND

The sun may be 93 million miles away, but when it has a bad day, Earth feels it. The first major 2011 solar flare storm is wreaking havoc across the world. Power grids, cell phone communications and GPS satellites are all at the mercy of this X-class solar flare.

The solar storm in 2011

The weather on the sun can get violent. On Feb. 13, 2011, there was a geomagnetic event — otherwise known as a solar storm — on sunspot 1158. The storm caused the magnetic fields around the sun to twist up so tightly that they snapped. This “snap” happened Feb. 14, when this storm caused the sun to release an X-class solar flare. X-class flares are the most powerful solar flares and contain radiation that covers most of the electromagnetic spectrum from radio waves to gamma rays. The wave of radiation, called a coronal mass ejection (CME) cloud, started hitting Earth on Feb. 15. This first solar flare of 2011, NASA estimates, will bathe the Earth in electromagnetic radiation for a week or more.

Problems caused by 2011 solar flare

As Washington state astronomy expert Jaspenelle Stewart explains, the electromagnetic waves from the solar flare travel through space at close to the speed of light and increase the ionization — the electrical charge — in the atmosphere. Any technology that relies on electricity or radio waves can be affected by this X-class solar flare. In China, short-wave radio communications have already been heavily affected. NASA and the U.S. National Weather Service estimate that this solar flare could interfere with navigation systems, including GPS. The solar storm 2011 will also interfere with satellites and even power grids. Very few power grids in the world are shielded from such an event; the only real protection is shutting down the generators.

Solar flare 2011 Northern Lights

The extra-heavy charge in the atmosphere does come with a small bright side. While anything electromagnetic is freaking out on the planet’s surface, the aurora borealis fill the sky. Better known as the Northern Lights, this X-class solar flare in 2011 is causing the Northern Lights to light up the sky across most of North America. Your best bet for watching the Northern Lights during the first 2011 solar storm is between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., away from city lights, Thursday night and Friday.


Universe Today
Solar Dynamics Observatory at NASA

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