The strongest solar flare of 2013 has been reported by NASA, an event that while it was rated only at the middle (an M6.5) on the scale of the sun’s events, still released a coronal mass ejection at more than 600 miles per second, according to NASA.
The event once again offered a warning about a major flare that could produce a wave of energy that would hit the earth with an electro-magnetic pulse that would produce devastating effects on electrical grids and other systems that are needed for food, fuel and water distribution, and whose lose could cost millions of lives.
NASA reported that the flare happened early Thursday and was “associated with an Earth-directed coronal mass ejection, another solar phenomenon that can send billions of tons of solar particles into space and can reach Earth one to three days later.”
“CME’s can affect electronic systems in satellites and on the ground. Experimental NASA research models show that the CME began at 3:30 a.m. EDT … leaving the sun at over 600 miles per second.
“Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however – when intense enough – they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel. This disrupts the radio signals for as long as the flare is ongoing, anywhere from minutes to hours.”
NASA continued, “This flare is classified as an M6.5, some 10 times less powerful than the stronger flares, which are labeled X-class flares. M-class flares are the weakest flares that can still cause some space weather effects near Earth.”
It reported that this event caused a radio blackout that since faded.
“This is the strongest flare seen so far in 2013. Increased numbers of flares are quite common at the moment, since the sun’s normal 11-year activity cycle is ramping up toward solar maximum, which is expected in late 2013,” NASA said.
The expected solar storm is what the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Academy of Sciences say could reach its greatest intensity between now and 2014, with recurring solar flare attacks into 2020.
In an in-depth, 132-page report funded by NASA and issued by the NAS entitled “Severe Space Weather Events: Understanding Economic and Societal Impact,” their study detailed the potential devastation of solar storms which began in 2012 but will reach increasing intensity well into 2014 and beyond.
Scientists are watching closely the ever-increasing flares that are coming off the sun’s surface.
A video of the latest event:
NASA estimates that the impending solar storm maximum could perhaps be even more powerful than the one recorded back in 1859 that had the effect at the time of a massive disruption of the fledging telegraph system that had recently been built across the nation, and produced spectacular aurora displays that could be seen throughout much of the Western hemisphere.
That 1859 episode is called the Carrington Event, named after the British Astronomer Richard Carrington who saw the effects of the solar storm and was the first to link sun activities with the Earth's geomagnetic disturbances.
The display of aurora in 1859 occurred over a five-day period in which thousands of people, for example, in New York City had gathered on sidewalks and rooftops to watch "the heavens…arrayed in a drapery more gorgeous than they have been for years."
It was an aurora that New Yorkers witnessed that prompted The New York Times to tell its readers that it "will be referred to hereafter among the events which occur but once or twice in a lifetime."
According to historical records, the auroral displays from August 28 through September 4, 1859, were described as having extraordinary brilliance that was observed throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia, and were seen as far south as Hawaii, the Caribbean and Central America in the Northern Hemisphere and in the Southern Hemisphere as far north as Santiago, Chile. Even during the daytime when the aurora no longer was visible, its presence was felt through the effect of auroral currents, according to the NAS study.
"Magnetic observatories recorded disturbances in the Earth's field so extreme that magnetometer traces were driven off scale, and telegraph networks around the world – the 'Victorian Internet' – experienced major disruptions and outages," it said.
"The electricity which attended this beautiful phenomenon took possession of the magnetic wires throughout the country," the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin reported at the time, "and there were numerous side displays in the telegraph offices where fantastical and unreadable messages came through the instruments, and where the atmospheric fireworks assumed shape and substances in brilliant sparks."
Operators in a number of areas disconnected their systems from batteries and sent messages using only the current induced by the aurora.
In looking at potential events between 2013 and 2014 and possibly into 2020, solar physicist David Hathaway of the National Space Science & Technology Center of NASA said that the magnetic belts of the sun have begun to turn very fast. He said that many magnetic fields are being swept up and that a future sunspot cycle is going to be very intense.
Underlying this concern is what scientists also determined are major breaks in the Earth's solar defenses, caused by the recent discovery of a thick layer of solar particles inside the Earth's magnetic field.
To scientists, discovery of this thick layer of solar particles inside the Earth's magnetic field strongly suggests that Earth could experience serious solar storms in the 2013-2014 period that could have a major impact on civilization's electrical power sources.
"The sequence we're expecting…is just right to put particles in and energize them to create the biggest geomagnetic storms, the brightest auroras, the biggest disturbances in Earth's radiation belts," said David Sibeck of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.
"So, if all of this is true, it should be that we're in for a tough time in the next 11 years," Sibeck said.
Recent data from NASA's THEMIS satellite has revealed a 6,437-kilometer, or 4,000-mile thick layer of solar particles have accumulated and continue to gather within the outermost part of the magnetosphere, which is a protective bubble created by Earth’s magnetic field.
The magnetosphere is supposed to block these solar particles – also referred to as solar winds – which leave the sun at a million miles an hour, experts say.
"The solar wind is constantly changing, and the Earth's magnetic field is buffeted like a wind sock in gale-force winds, fluttering back and forth in response to the solar wind," Sibeck said.
With the sun having been relatively quiet, the Earth has been in what scientists term a solar minimum. However, with expected increased activity with a solar storm maximum, the reaction in the magnetosphere could be quite dramatic.
This prediction comes from a team led by Mausumi Dikpati of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which is headquartered in Boulder, Colo. NCAR is managed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research and is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. In turn, the UCAR is a consortium of more than 75 universities nationwide offering post-graduate studies in atmospheric and related sciences.
"The next sunspot cycle will be 30 percent to 50 percent stronger than the previous one," Dikpati said. If this is true, then scientists believe a solar storm maximum expected between 2013 and 2014 and into 2020 could produce bursts of solar activity second only to the historic Solar Max of 1958.
Today, such a solar maximum would be noticed on mobile phones, ground positioning systems, from weather satellites and the potential effects on the electronics that are so much a part of everyday life.