On February 14th, our warm and giving Sun gave us a huge “sweetheart” gift. After being quiet for over five years it had a major eruption resulting in a powerful solar flare being sent out towards the Earth. This flare was very powerful and set warning networks into motion all over the globe.
This event which was classified as an ‘X’ type (X is the most powerful flare, M is a medium classification, and C is the weakest type of flare) was due to reach our planet on or around the 17th of February. Much like the tsunami warnings after an earthquake, ominous advisories were issued all over the world for possible interference in our communications network.
There was certainly reason to worry. In 1989, two flares caused electromagnetic storms that resulted in massive power outages in Canada, as well as communications issues, and loss of data from orbiting satellites. Were we in for a similar storm from this flare? The 1989 events were much more powerful than the one on the 17th. The two separate flares in 1989 were classified as x15 and x20 (where the number reflects the “power level” of the flare). The incoming flare was rated just above two on the scale. It wasn’t large in comparison, but warranted careful observation nonetheless.
As the fateful day came and went, nothing happened. It was just another day on planet Earth. Cell Phones still worked. No one’s power was out due to the solar storm. The fact of the matter was that after it was all said and done, the storm had essentially missed us.
NASA says that this is just the beginning of the cycle, as the Sun is finally starting to “wake up” and become more active. It is entirely likely that there will be more X-class events over the next two to four years of this cycle where the sun is much more active. For now, however, it seems that our ability to use our cell phones and other media is secure.
- NASA Downplays Solar Flare Hype (pcworld.com)
- Shields Up: Why Last Week’s Solar Storm Was a Dud (wired.com)
- NASA Tamps Down Massive Solar Flare Impact Hype (pcworld.com)