Solar flares may disrupt satellites, ignite light show
Published Saturday, July 14, 2012 7:09AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, July 14, 2012 3:32PM EDT
The Earth is set to be hit by a massive blast of solar radiation Saturday that NASA says will result in an awesome display of northern lights, and may temporarily disrupt satellite communications and power grids.
The solar storm started on Thursday, when a sunspot exploded and unleashed a massive flare that hurled a cloud of highly charged particles towards Earth at a speed of 5-million kilometres an hour.
Scientists say it’s the strongest sun storm this summer and it could be up to 300-thousand kilometres long.
There have already been five solar outbursts this year, but none has caused any problems so far.
Andrew Fazekas, an astronomy expert from National Geographic, told CTV News Channel on Saturday that the solar blast is considered an “x-class flare,” which is considered to be on the serious end of flares.
The flare has been travelling since Thursday and will arrive on Earth sometime on Saturday, said Fazekas.
This may result in extraordinary light displays on Saturday night and possibly Sunday night.
Fazekas said the flare is just part of the sun’s natural cycle.
The sun goes through 11 year cycles, and near the 11th year of any given cycle there will be a peak in solar activity, he said.
Next year will mark the 11th year of the current cycle, said Fazekas.
“Scientists have noticed that there is a real uptick in the number of eruptions of these solar flares. There’s more intensity and more frequency to these solar eruptions,” he said.
“If they happen to be erupting when they’re facing towards the Earth, that’s when we get colourful light shows in the form of northern lights and possible satellite communications disruptions from the radiation that comes from these eruptions.”
Fazekas said the current flare had already caused some radio blackouts in the polar region, which caused some air flights travelling in the region to be diverted.