Solar Storm Puts on a Show

It's also creating a few problems here on Earth

By KIM BALDONADO
Updated 7:31 AM PST, Thu, Jan 26, 2012

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Images captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory Monday morning show a solar flare erupting from the sun early Monday morning. It's a spectacular show, but the flare can cause problems.

"A solar flare is just an explosion on the sun. It's in the sun's atmosphere, and that material is propelled out with tremendous energy," said Dr. Ed Krupp, Director of Griffith Observatory.

That material, a mix of superheated gas and charged particles, headed toward us at about three million miles an hour and reached Earth Tuesday morning. It is the largest solar storm since 2003, but Dr. Krupp says there's no need to worry.

"There is radiation in the form of x-rays that never really affects us here on the surface of the earth," Dr. Krupp said.

While the Earth's magnetic field protects us, some of the technology we use may be affected.

"These days we have high technology that is sometimes vulnerable, particularly if it's up at high altitudes. Satellites, spacecraft, even aircraft can be vulnerable at certain times," Dr. Krupp added.

Delta Airlines rerouted half a dozen transpolar flights to avoid communication problems and to avoid exposing pilots and passengers to excessive radiation.

"Most satellite technology has the beef to deal with it, and then there are also defensive measures that the satellites can take," Dr. Krupp said.

Dr Krupp explains this solar flare is part of the Sun's normal activity cycle, which it goes through every 11 years. The Sun will remain active for another few years before it settles down.


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First Published: Jan 25, 2012 3:23 PM PST

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