Saturday, February 19, 2011

Solar Eruptions hit Earth

The Sun never sleeps...

Since February 15th there have been a series of eruptions on the surface of the Sun. These eruptions emphasize the fact that the Sun is becoming more active after a lengthy period of "inactivity" which featured incredibly low counts of sunspots and other surface activity. The Sun is approaching its regular activity pattern in the 11-year solar cycle.

The eruptions from the Sun, designated X-class solar flares, have sent wave after wave of charged solar particles toward the Earth. Thankfully, our magnetic field will protect us from the most dangerous effects of the blasts, and will result in some magnificent Aurora displays in the far North. However, the danger we face is disruption to the orbital communications networks that we depend on for our quality of life. Besides navigation and power systems, communications and space equipment may be at risk.

NASA is also monitoring the blasts to see if their strength can put astronaut lives at risk. In worst cases, the Astronauts have some areas on the ISS where they can be protected from the worst of the radiation, but there is always a danger. Further away from Earth, astronauts on missions away from our magnetic field would be in great danger. This risk has always been part of any planning for deep space missions.

We've been learning more and more about the dangers the Sun presents to our civilization's electronic lifelines. We have to learn how to build more radiation resistant systems to withstand any such future attacks.

No comments: