Solar Storm Update


An ultraviolet image of the solar flare captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (Credits: NASA).

According to NASA, the coronal mass ejection (CME) that erupted from the sun on January 21 collided with Earth’s magnetic field a little after 10 AM ET on January 24, 2012. The influx of particles from the CME amplified the solar radiation storm such that it is now considered the largest since October 2003.

At this time, no known communication or electronics failures have occured due to the CME-induced geomagnetic storm. However, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that some airlines are rerouting flights to avoid the most affected polar regions. Although a very powerful storm, near the maximum X-class rating, the effect on Earth and Earth-orbiting craft has been mitigated by an off-center angle of impact.

With solar activity on the rise and expected to peak with a solar maximum in 2013, scientists have been working to improve forecasting of such storms. “A CME is kind of like a space hurricane,” a lead researcher at the Space Weather Center, told “You have to predict how it will form and evolve. From the models, we can see which spacecraft will be in its path, and what will be impacted.”

At the Space Weather Center, scientists were able to pinpoint the arrival of the CME more accurately than ever before. “We predicted it would arrive at 9:18 a.m. and in reality, it arrived at 9:31 a.m., so ours has a 13-minute error,” Zheng said. “Usually for this kind of model, the average error is seven hours, so this is the best case.”



About the author

Merryl Azriel

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Having wandered into professional writing and editing after a decade in engineering, science, and management, Merryl now enjoys reintegrating the dichotomy by bringing space technology and policy within reach of an interested public. After three years as Space Safety Magazine’s Managing Editor, Merryl semi-retired to Visiting Contributor and manager of the campaign to bring the International Space Station collaboration to the attention of the Nobel Peace Prize committee. She keeps her pencil sharp as Proposal Manager for U.S. government contractor CSRA.

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