Largest space weather storm in at least four years

More solar images at the WUWT Solar Reference Page

From the: University of Colorado at Boulder

Space weather disrupts communications, threatens other technologies

A powerful solar flare has ushered in the largest space weather storm in at least four years and has already disrupted some ground communications on Earth, said University of Colorado Boulder Professor Daniel Baker, an internationally known space weather expert.

Classified as a Class X flare, the Feb. 15 event also spewed billions of tons of charged particles toward Earth in what are called coronal mass ejections and ignited a geomagnetic storm in Earth’s magnetic field, said Baker, director of CU-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. Such powerful ejections can cause a variety of socioeconomic and safety issues ranging from the disruption of airline navigation systems and power grids to the safety of airline crews and astronauts.

“The sun is coming back to life,” said Baker, who chaired a 2008 National Research Council committee that produced a report titled “Severe Space Weather Events — Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts.” For the past several years the sun has been in its most quiescent state since early in the 20th century, said Baker.

From a scientific standpoint a class X event — the most powerful kind of solar flare — is exciting, said Baker, also a CU-Boulder professor in the astrophysical and planetary sciences department. “But as a society, we can’t afford to let our guard down when operating spacecraft in the near-Earth environment.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, several more coronal mass ejections may reach Earth’s atmosphere in the next day or two.

“Human dependence on technology makes society more susceptible to the effects of space weather,” Baker said. “But scientists and engineers have made great strides in recent decades regarding this phenomenon.

“We understand much more about what is happening and can build more robust systems to withstand the effects,” Baker said. “It will be interesting to see how well our technological systems will withstand the rigors of space weather as the sun gets back to higher activity levels.”

###

Baker also spearheaded a 2006 NRC report titled “Space Radiation Hazards and the Vision for Space.” The report considered the effects of space weather events on human explorers venturing beyond low-Earth orbit. The National Research Council is a federal organization created by the National Academy of Sciences.

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Richard Patton

“The sun is coming back to life,” said Baker
“Lets not be hasty,” said Treebeard.
As mentioned by others on this board, the sun during a grand minimum can still throw out class x flares.

I’m surprised that Gore, Hansen, Monbiot, et al, haven’t claimed that man-made CO2 is the cause of the solar flare and mass ejection. /sarc

Baa Humbug

Coming back to life? Old Sol is just raising his head to take a quick drink before slumping back to sleep.
The X Class flare is just the coughing and spluttering whilst taking that drink.

Dave Gorney

Let’s not forget that Dan Baker and his organization in Boulder get it’s funding through NOAA with the rationale of trying to avoid the impending “apocalypse” of solar events. See the recent cover article of the otherwise objective Sky and Telescope magazine to see how far these organizations will go to spectacularize the importance of these solar events. Ho Hum. How bad off would we really be if we didn’t funnel any more research $$$$$$ into this area? This is the weakest solar max in memory, but yet the press is full of dire predictions of the end of days. Ok, so solar flares are annoying, but let’s get some perspective.

Space weather disrupts communications, threatens other technologies

Really!!?
Can they provide some examples (something specific; nothing speculative)?
Monitoring 10 MHz WWV the past few days I have seen no changes … 11/10 Meters was even briefly open to the west coast about midday …
.

dp

It’s probably my fault. Trying to do what global warming cannot which is to remove the moss growing on the north side of it, I washed my Jeep this week. There’s a reason Seattle is called Emerald City, and it’s not because we’re crazy about CFL lamps. We have moss on the north side of everything here. I have an asphalt driveway and its never been so green.
So, sorry, folks – blame me.
Sadly, we have no aurora activity despite my best effort 🙁

Douglas DC

So far here at 45N+ nothing to override the moon-when it isn’t snowing….

BFL

Notice that the Planetary A is still non-existent also:
http://www.solen.info/solar/
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/01/07/suns-magnetic-index-reaches-unprecedent-low-only-zero-could-be-lower-in-a-month-when-sunspots-became-more-active/
If the Ap is more predictive than sunspots as some believe, then added cold is still on schedule, not that the AGW/NASA types will notice.

This geomagnetic storm was only moderate as predicted, because from the location on the Sun where it came from it was evident that the magnetic field at the front of the CME would be pointing northwards and thus only interact weakly with the Earth’s field.

Ray

Wasn’t there some pretty major mass ejection on the other side of the sun quite some time ago… it just did not come our way.

Here is the impact of the X class flare on Earth’s Magnetosphere – (February, 18th 2011 Magnetosphere Activity from the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology.)
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6N0YfHOqFsY&w=480&h=390]
You should also download and watch the much higher resolution avi version, which is very cool:
http://www3.nict.go.jp/y/y223/simulation/realtime/movie/2011/test_6.20110218.avi
For comparative reference here is Magnetosphere Activity on Feb 17th, 2011:
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PUdcaMZb2A&w=480&h=390]
And here’s an M6.6-class solar flare impacting the Magnetosphere on August 3rd, 2010:
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zy4HgirSwjo&w=480&h=390]
which is the CME impact referenced here:
http://www.spaceweather.com/archive.php?view=1&day=03&month=08&year=2010
If you want to look at the Magnetosphere Activity simulations for any other dates, all of the downloadables can be found here:
http://www3.nict.go.jp/y/y223/simulation/realtime/movie/
http://www3.nict.go.jp/y/y223/simulation/realtime/movie/2011/

Craig

In the late 1800’s an x-flare about 100x as large caused telegraph wires to FRY and caused FIRES. Back then there was no radio, just telegraph. And there was no electrical infrastructure. A flare that big now would BURN OUT EVERY POLE TRANSFORMER ON EARTH from the induction caused in the wires feeding them. Not to mention the damage to generators getting over-amped. Experts say it would take 10 YEARS to recover. Imagine what it would do to your TV, cars computer chips or your PC

Marian

“_Jim says:
February 18, 2011 at 8:41 pm
Monitoring 10 MHz WWV the past few days I have seen no changes … 11/10 Meters was even briefly open to the west coast about midday …”
We’ve been getting brief 10/11 meter openings to the USA Downunder in New Zealand. Heard the first 10 meters FM from the USA since the previous Solar Cycle last week. Other than that generally 11/10 Meter radio conditions so far were actually better off and on last year here. IMO. I suppose if the solar disturbances ease off and if the Solar flux and Sunspot numbers do stay up. Then maybe we might see 10/11 meter band conditions as good as previous solar cycles.

John F. Hultquist

Jim @ 8:41
I think that is just a headline added by the Univ’s PR folks.
Prof. Baker doesn’t seem to be say the events so far are extremely dangerous.

John F. Hultquist says:
February 18, 2011 at 10:04 pm
I think that is just a headline added by the Univ’s PR folks.
Prof. Baker doesn’t seem to be say the events so far are extremely dangerous.

Analogous to this: http://www.leif.org/research/NASA-in-the-News.png

More NASA type hype from those looking for future funding….this is not much better than the AGW rubbish we have to put up with.

markinaustin

is that true craig? that’s horrifying! and how unusual are flares that size?

kforestcat

Off topic but… The U.S. House just voted to defund the IPCC.
Kforestcat

ES

Solar Cycle 24 says there was a R2 Radio Blackout, which is Moderate HF Radio: Limited blackout of HF radio communication on sunlit side, loss of radio contact for tens of minutes.
Navigation: Degradation of low-frequency navigation signals for tens of minutes.
http://www.solarcycle24.com/

nc

No light show at 53,122. Clear and a cold 23c below gore. I read David Suzuki is in Australia on some sort of a junket. Interesting to bail out of a west coast Canadian winter riding his carbon credits on a tax deductable trip down under. Looking for some warming I guess.

Mark Twang

Remember, folks: space weather is not space climate!

CMB

@Craig, markinaustin:
Yes, it was real (although I’m not sure about the 100x). It’s generally known as the Carrington Event.
/relurk

kforestcat says:
February 18, 2011 at 10:56 pm (Edit)
Off topic but… The U.S. House just voted to defund the IPCC.

Well, not quite, but the proposal is in the air:
http://tallbloke.wordpress.com/2011/02/19/u-s-republicans-propose-to-defund-ipcc/
Thanks for the update on solar activity Anthony. Leif: Any idea whether this is temporary or a real ramp-up?

One more SSN of 100. Looks like the sun is finally racing towards max. In 2003 I calculated for the SC24 that the SSN monthly non-smoothed to get to 80.
http://www.vukcevic.talktalk.net/NFC7.htm
It may or it may not, looks optimistic. Note this is not prediction but just a simple calculation. It should be worth seeing how it compares with the predictions of the solar experts.

janama

Can I please make a request?
The Title states : Largest space weather storm in at least four years
so four years ago we had another weather storm.
Anthony – My media is constantly hyping ” greatest in 50 years” “highest SST temps on record” – everyone in the media is obsessed by it.
Yet the highest SST on record in Australia actually means the highest since records began in the early 70s when satellite records of sea surface records started.

Patrick Davis

“kforestcat says:
February 18, 2011 at 10:56 pm”
Really? I wonder if we’ll see the MSM cover it in Australia. Here in Australia this event is being hyped as “signs of increasing solar activity which will impact climate” (Who’d thought that?). More scare, more garbage in the Australian MSM. Article after article, news cast and after news cast, Australia MUST put a price on carbon, while the US cuts US$3bil from the EPA budget for polices on climate. I wonder when our “leaders” will wake and smell the coffee?

David Bailey

How long before someone writes a paper blaming unusual ‘weather’ on the sun, on global warming!

Dave Springer

markinaustin says:
February 18, 2011 at 10:22 pm
“is that true craig? that’s horrifying! and how unusual are flares that size?”
Technically inaccurate but true. The year was 1859 and it wasn’t a flare it was a coronal mass ejection (CME). CME’s are often associated with flares but aren’t the same thing. A CME is an ejection of a huge cloud of charged particles which take a day or three to reach the earth’s orbit depending on how fast they are moving. If it happens to hit the earth and it’s a big one then some very bad things can happen. In pre-industrial times about the only effect anyone would find noteworthy is the Aurora Borealis can be seen from lower latitudes than normal. In 1859 it could be seen in Florida and Mexico for instance. It melted telegraph lines and started fires in telegraph offices. Basically anything metal acts like an antenna and takes on an electric cloud as the CME streams past. It works by induction – a magnetic field moving past a conductor causing an electrical current to flow in the conductor – transformers, generators, and electric motors work by induction. In practical terms the longer the antenna the more electricity is generated. For short conductors it isn’t much but for miles of electrical wire like telegraph lines it can be quite a lot of energy. For the modern electrical grid it could be catastrophic as large transformers connected to miles of grid wires would burn up. Those large transformers take a long time to build and aren’t inventoried in any significant number. It would take years to replace them and in the meantime electrical power distrubtion would cease causing all kinds of havoc. Water would stop flowing from taps, sewers would cease to function, gas pumps couldn’t pump fuel up out of underground tanks, no refrigeration, no heating, no air conditioning, no power for hospitals, etcetera. It would take months just to get basic emergency services, food, water, and fuel distribution functioning at a minimal level.
With a modicum of advance warning that a large CME was coming the electric grid can be shut down and the big transformers electrically isolated to reduce the damage but it still wouldn’t be pretty and could potentially trash an entire hemisphere’s electrical distribution.
No one knows how often big ones like the 1859 happens or how big they can get. Maybe that one was a once-a-million-year thing or maybe they happen statistically once per century and another is overdue. Maybe they get hugely larger and come once every thousand years like nearby supernovas.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_storm_of_1859

Beesaman

Is this a good example of the difference between space weather and space climate?

Dave Springer says ‘maybe a once in a million year thing’……
Not at all. There are records in the ice-cores that show the major atmospheric changes that accompany such mega-flares (and Carrington was a flare, which he saw, followed by a CME, which of course, he did not know about other than from the magnetic disturbances on Earth). The ice-core record shows mega-flares not to be that unusual – somewhere between 1:200 and 1:500 years frequency. The solar cycle in 1859 was not that unusual (Leif – have you studied that event for any signs of why we can get such huge flares?). There are signs in the ice-record also that the glacial termination was a time of greatly disturbed solar activity.
It is worth reflecting on how modern science and technology has built an edifice of civilisation so utterly dependent upon electricity for transport and communication that the whole thing could grind to a halt within minutes. The National Academy of Science 2008 report on the issue, plus the hearings in Congress, make stark reading – the US would be able to feed only 10% of its population in the aftermath. No pumps for water supplies, or for sewage. No food in the supermarkets after three days. No radio, TV or newspapers. Only military and police/civil emergency networks are hardened against EMP.
Why did nobody see this coming? I guess they were all too concerned about global warming!

Well you could say, one flare is better than no flare — But as far as “coming back to life” … I think we need a wee bit more data before making brash statements.
Shouldn’t that read ‘we sure hope the sun is coming back to life, so the globular warming lies won’t look so stupid to the average snow bound guy’ — works for me.

wayne Job

I do remember reading that the sun has a habit of nasty large discharges when it is most quiet. It will now sonambulate if we get a really big wacking the best laid plans of mice and men will come to nought. Solar panels and wind turbines would be toast, the grid has been hardened for this and some may survive. The cable system using light should be OK as the wireless devices being unconnected should also survive. Getting the power back on may take a while. Hopefully those who designed our com satellites know what they are doing .

Dave Springer : “The year was 1859 and it wasn’t a flare it was a coronal mass ejection (CME).
Isn’t a CME (actually 3 CMEs) what we are getting now???
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/02/16/3-cmes-headed-our-way-geomagnetic-storminess-set-for-earth/
3 CME’s headed our way – geomagnetic storminess set for earth
From the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center, word that our recent X-class (and lesser magnitude) solar flares have released three Coronal Mass Ejections (CME’s) toward Earth…..

Brad

Spaceweather is very cool, but to act as if solar storms are a huge issue is like thinking Greenland melt is going to be a problem in your lifetime – overblown concerns and done for scientific monetary gain.

Craig says February 18, 2011 at 9:30 pm:
In the late 1800′s an x-flare about 100x as large caused telegraph wires to FRY and caused FIRES. Back then there was no radio, just telegraph. And there was no electrical infrastructure. A flare that big now would BURN OUT EVERY POLE TRANSFORMER ON EARTH from the induction caused in …
Kinda no. In fact, just plain no.
Look up the term ‘islanding’ as it applies to electric power transmission and how it relates as a protective mechanism in thwarting GIC (Ground Induced Currents).
Better yet, browse here if you will for further elucidation:
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/06/17/nasa-warns-solar-flares-from-huge-space-storm-will-cause-devastation/#comment-411599
Or cut to the chase and check out how electric power generation system operators are trained to respond given advance knowledge of these events (we aren’t flying blind like in past decades on events): http://www.pjm.com/training/~/media/training/core-curriculum/ip-ops-101/ops101-weatheremer.ashx
.

Dave Springer February 19, 2011 at 2:33 am

For the modern electrical grid it could be catastrophic as large transformers connected to miles of grid wires would burn up. …

Dave, see the response to Craig above …
Also, bear in mind these effects are more predominant the further northward in latitude they are …
.

ES says February 18, 2011 at 11:21 pm :
Solar Cycle 24 says there was a R2 Radio Blackout, which …

Is that prognostication or verification, like an account of the trouble encountered (lost comms, a circuit that continually failed with multiple re-trys; a syslog with time stamps, etc.) …
.

ozspeaksup

Patrick Davis says:
February 19, 2011 at 2:03 am
“kforestcat says:
February 18, 2011 at 10:56 pm”
Really? I wonder if we’ll see the MSM cover it in Australia. Here in Australia this event is being hyped as “signs of increasing solar activity which will impact climate” (Who’d thought that?). More scare, more garbage in the Australian MSM. Article after article, news cast and after news cast, Australia MUST put a price on carbon, while the US cuts US$3bil from the EPA budget for polices on climate. I wonder when our “leaders” will wake and smell the coffee?
===========
ah but they cannot..because theUNelected govt is only IN power due to the greens and green leaning independants. ergo they will keep sweet, evidence in the insistance of solar power to go ahead at many millions, for the bribe of agreeing to the TAX for floods deal.
funny the Qld govt could say insuring their premises was not cost effective…
yet they can berate homeowners? and the insurers can squib out anyway?
Piers Corbyns warning of ore events late Feb, so far hes spot on.
lets see the fear and lies campaign continue over that

Don B

The sun may be coming back to life, in the sense that SC24 is continuing, but the Livingston and Penn decline continues. From Leif’s site:
http://www.leif.org/research/Livingston%20and%20Penn.png

The headline may prove to incorrect. Its not over yet but so far we had a bigger impact on Earth (going by the aurora) last year when two rather insignificant unipolar groups came together.

Latitude

largest space weather storm in at least four years
=======================================
big whoopie
I hate statements like that………..

Dave Springer

@Peter
The 1859 CME was unusual in that it followed in the path of another CME which cleared the way allowing the second CME to make the journey in just 18 hours instead of the usual 3 days. The higher velocity amplified the induction as it moved across telegraph wires.
CMEs are often associated with solar flares but the flares are not causally connected to the CME and CMEs sometimes come out of a quiet region of the sun.
I can’t find any ice core record of CMEs going back more than 500 years. The 1859 event was singularly powerful during that period of time so unless there is data going back much farther it’s simply not possible to establish a frequency for events of that magnitude from a sample size of one event. Graph of ice core NOx (spikes indicate CMEs) data for the past 500 years:
http://sunearthday.gsfc.nasa.gov/2010/images/ttt70-fig3.jpg

Peter Taylor says February 19, 2011 at 3:40 am:

Only military and police/civil emergency networks are hardened against EMP.

Au contraire; pls see: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/2333665/posts?page=159#159 for a discussion of intrinsic hardness (ESD Protection) that is a part of semiconductor fabrication today …
See also “System-Level ESD/EMI
Protection Guide”: http://focus.ti.com/lit/ml/sszb130a/sszb130a.pdf
Addressing EMP Mario Rabinowitz of Electric Power Research Institute has this to say: http://arxiv.org/ftp/physics/papers/0307/0307127.pdf
.

Dave Springer

Mike Jonas says:
February 19, 2011 at 4:07 am
“Dave Springer : “The year was 1859 and it wasn’t a flare it was a coronal mass ejection (CME).””
“Isn’t a CME (actually 3 CMEs) what we are getting now???”
Yes. Solar flares in and of themselves are dangerous in that they emit proton streams travelling at the speed of light. These aren’t dangerous on the surface of the earth (atmosphere protects us from them) but can be lethal for astronauts and they have only 8 minutes from observation of the flare to arrival of the protons. So the proton stream from the big flare passed us a few days ago. CMEs travel at only a tiny fraction of the speed of light and have intense magnetic fields associated with them. The magnetic fields are not attenuated by the atmosphere and those are what cause the high currents on electric tranmission lines. A CME (or a series of them) emerged around the same time as the flare. Those lagged behind the proton stream although I thought they too had passed through last night although there might be more of them as I haven’t been following the story very close. CMEs can happen without flares and sometimes from regions devoid of sunspots altogether. No one is sure of the mechanism which spawns them only that they are spawned more frequently when other surface disturbances such as sunspots and flares are visible.

CPT. Charles

I guess this is sorta like a restless sleeper kicking off the covers…

R.S.Brown

Dave Springer says:
February 19, 2011 at 2:33 am

Water would stop flowing from taps, sewers would cease to function, gas pumps couldn’t pump fuel up out of underground tanks, no refrigeration, no heating, no air conditioning, no power for hospitals, etcetera.

Dave,
You’re only covering part of the implications a CME
like the Carrington Event of September 1, 1857, would have on
today’s world:
You need to add the collapse of the world monetary system and
all it’s little parts, together with all forms of electronic banking
transactions shutting down. Your credit cards won’t work, so you
have to have cash to buy anything. However, you can’t get any
money out of your checking/banking accounts… which are all
electronically maintained.
There will be no automatic mailings of retirement and dividend
checks, and probably no mail service to get them to you if they
could be issued. There will be no direct deposits, and no
automatic payments made for mortgages, utilities, and other
accounts owed.
Grocery and other food source stores will be a huge problem
for suburban/urban dwellers. There will be a limited distribution
of goods to start with and you will personally have a tough time
just getting to the stores. Maybe if you can get
to the stores, they might accept green foldy cash
in return for food. Remember, they might accept cash, but they
can’t deposit it at their banks.
Unless you’ve stored a home generator in a Faraday cage, and
stocked fuel for it ahead of time, you won’t be able to refridgerate
any perishables. Neither will the stores. Yum.
If you are personally, physically holding gold or silver bullion or coins,
you might be OK. However, if you have precious metals in a holding
account, you won’t be able to get to it.
On the other hand, you won’t get bills in the mail
or be able to file your taxes.

Solar storms are like hot ladies. Funny, the cycles in my love life coincide with the ups and downs of the Sun. If anyone wants to amp up their love life I sure could use a couple taken off my hands about now.

Our sun is beautiful!

A single Class X flare and three active sunspot groups (after a period several weeks ago of a blank sun) does not mean “the sun is coming back to life.” Such statements are typical exaggeration by scientists on the prowl for more money.
It’s clear that many government-funded scientists, particularly those involved in climatology, spend many of their working hours trying to scare up research grants by inventing fantastical tales of approaching doom. Global warming (now ludicrously referred to as “climate change”) has become a Motherlode for greedy researchers nursing on the taxpayer teet. Scientific inquiry among climate-change researchers has been reduced to crude charlatanism spurred by the chase for money.

H.R.

Having read the article and comments, I’m confused. Do we “duck and cover” for this one or not?