Big Solar Flare, Geomagnetic Storm Activity Light Up the Northern Sky, Prompt the Question of Earth Defense
January 25, 2012 • 5:19AM

A huge solar flare, let out on Jan. 22 (around 11 pm), sent forth a radiation flow at almost 93 million miles per hour (1,400 miles per second, 2,253 km/s), whose storm front, the Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), hit yesterday and continues through today. This is the strongest Solar Radiation Storm since 2003, according to NASA and the National Weather Service's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC). Scientists rate it as a long-duration M9-class solar flare, putting it on the threshold of being an X-class eruption, the most powerful kind of solar flare.

Watch is being kept worldwide for potential impact on all kinds of systems; e.g., over-the-pole airplanes could experience communications disruptions. Navigation and radio disruptions can be expected. NASA has judged that the six astronauts on the International Space Station will be safe.

The aurora borealis displays are dazzling in Norway and many other poleward latitudes, and expected to be visible much farther south than usual. The Space Weather Prediction Center has so far judged that the radiation storm is in the moderate, or G2-G3 range on the geomagnetic storm scale, which goes to G4 as severe, and G5 as extreme.

This dramatic solar flare episode prompts the question: what are we doing for Earth defense? LPAC yesterday posted, "Planetary Defense: It's the CME, Not the EMP," by Meghan Rouillard, addressing the real science and real threats involved, and debunking the pin-head scaremongering by Newt-the fruit-Gingrich.

"The threat of a new so-called 'Carrington event' (a major geomagnetic disturbance, on the order of an event which occurred in 1859) looms over mankind here on Earth, and with it, the possibility that half of the US population could be left without power for months on end, as the electromagnetic atmospheric disturbances resulting from CMEs can induce disruptive and irreversibly destructive currents in transformers, satellites, GPS, and other hardware. The transformers we would need to regain our electricity generating capacity, were such a devastating CME to hit Earth, are no longer even produced in the U.S....

"Real planetary defense should deal with such physical economic considerations, in addition to expanding our capabilities in solar forecasting, which, as indicated in our Planetary Defense report, also has implications for earthquake and other kinds of forecasting...."