Ever wonder why this summer's weather is so unusual? It's because the sun is approaching the solar maximum, which will occur in 2013, and researchers say solar activity is just beginning. Large solar flares are erupting on a regular basis with ever increasing strength, and astronomers have predicted that this solar maximum could be one of the most damaging on record. What's more, NASA's THEMIS satellites have discovered a gigantic hole in the earth's magnetosphere 10 times larger than anyone expected to exist, and could be the key ingredient for a worldwide catastrophic event.
The sun goes through an 11 year solar cycle, ane we are currently in the 10th year of the solar maximum, where we have a more active sun. Strong solar flares are coming off the sun and our earth is feeling the effect, and the flares are increasing in strength. A solar flare is magnetic energy which builds up in the sun's atmosphere. It's the sudden brightening on the sun, through you can't see it from earth. Following the flare is a coronal mass ejection (CME). These CME's are clouds of energy which are powered through the sun's corona, out into space. This energy reaches the earth in one to two days and the amount of energy released from it is equivalent to millions of 100 megaton hydrogen bombs that explode at the same time in the sun's atmosphere.
Right now, during the peak of the sun's maximum, we are getting several solar flares per day compared to ten years ago during the solar minimum, when the sun was quiet. Back then we got less than one solar flare per week. Now though, the solar flares are increasing and we're feeling their effects with record-breaking temperatures.
Solar flares are classified according to their strength. The biggest flares are known as X-class flares. The smallest ones are A-Class, which are quite normal, followed by B, C, M and X. Similar to the Richter scale for earthquakes, each letter represents a 10-fold increase in energy output, meaning an X flare is 10 times more powerful than an M and 100 more times more powerful than a C flare.
Massive solar flares, like the X flares, can knock out electrical power for extended times. Many transformers could burn out. The current sunspot group on the sun is group AR 1515, and its gigantic. It's longer than 15 earths set end to end! On July 6, NASA's Solar Observatory spotted the summer's first X flare. Within six days of this date, 12 more M flares were observed. One of them, an M6 knocked out radio signals. If our earth comes in the direct path of an X flare, our satellite communications around the world could be taken out, and also we could enter into a wide-area blackout.
These X class flares increase the amount of heat energy coming from the sun into earth's lower atmosphere, increasing temperatures and shattering records. Back on March 7, a very powerful X. 54 flare was released. This was the second largest flare ever. Another X1.3 flare was released an hour later. Within three days of this activity a magnitude 8.9 earthquake hit Japan, the Kilauea volcano erupted in Hawaii, millions of sardines were found dead in Redondo Beach, California, and there was a massive fish kill in Australia.
Looking back, during the month of July, 44 M flares and 2 X flares were observed. What is in store for August? I'll keep you informed.
Faye Ruckhardt, Nesquehoning