Massive Solar Storm in 2011?

The last time the sun erupted into a massive solar storm, the year was 1859. Northern Lights appeared over Cuba and Hawaii, and electrical currents from the blast set telegraph offices on fire. But that was then. Scientists and government officials are worried a modern-day solar storm of the same proportion could wreak havoc on Earth, crippling communications and paralyzing power grids. Massive solar storms, resulting in huge coronal mass ejections, usually happen just before the sun goes through a quiet phase. NASA officials announced earlier this week that we’re poised to enter a below-average solar cycle soon, giving weight to concerns about how Earth would weather a solar storm like the one that happened in 1859. “A similar storm today might knock us for a loop,” said NASA physicist Lika Guhathakurta in a prepared statement. “Modern society depends on high-tech systems such as smart power grids, GPS, and satellite communications – all of which are vulnerable to solar storms.” Coronal mass ejections are responsible for the aurora phenomenon commonly referred to as the Northern Lights. Needless to say, auroras are usually seen in the polar regions of the planet as solar winds collide with Earth’s magnetic field. But before you get too worried, NASA said a fleet of spacecraft surrounding the sun warns us of solar storms within hours of when they strike. In the event of an uncommonly large storm, early-warning system would give power grids and high-tech grids more time to prepare. (Source: Amy Rolph, Photograph by NASA)

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