Hype bigger than solar storm -- so far

This handout image provided by NASA shows a solar flare heading toward Earth. An impressive solar flare is heading toward Earth and could disrupt power grids, GPS and airplane flights. An impressive solar flare is heading toward Earth and could disrupt power grids, GPS and airplane flights. Forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center said the sun erupted Tuesday evening and the effects should start smacking Earth late Wednesday night, close to midnight EST. They say it is the biggest in five years and growing. (AP Photo/NASA)
March 9, 2012 5:18:43 AM PST
''It's a non-starter,'' ABC7 meteorologist Mike Caplan said of the solar storm that had threatened to disrupt technology on Earth. ''It's not impossible that it could change, but it's unlikely.''

"Currently, the beautiful solar flare that erupted from the sun did not cause any adverse consequences on earth, as was feared. Scientists are continuing to monitor the flow of energy from the sun and the interaction of the earth for any unforeseen changes," Caplan said.

The solar flare was expected to be one of the biggest seen in recent years, but it doesn't appear to have any major impact on the earth's magnetic fields, as there are no reports of problems with power grids, GPS, satellites or other technologies that can be disrupted by such solar storms.

That means the Northern Lights are lighting up the skies, but not as far south as Chicago.

"Is there a remote chance the Aurora Borealis might be seen this far south? Sure," Caplan said. But he believes that's a very, very remote chance.

Early indications had shown the storm was about 10 times stronger than the normal solar wind that hits Earth. The storm started with a massive solar flare Tuesday evening and grew as it raced outward from the sun, expanding like a giant soap bubble, scientists said. The charged particles were expected to hit at 4 million mph.

"[The flare] is a really significant event. You look at the images, and it's just a huge bright flash that went off," Geza Gyuk, Adler Planetarium, said.

But in the end, the solar storm expected to be a lion went out like a lamb.

"The sun is capable of throwing flares as much as ten or even more times as strong as this one, so this one we'll ride it out just fine," Gyuk said.

"It's not a terribly strong event. It's a very interesting event," said Joe Kunches, a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center.

The storms are part of the sun's normal 11-year cycle, which is expected to peak in late 2013, according to NASA.

How the storms work: When the massive cloud of gas and radiation hits the Earth, it shakes up the magnetic field surrounding the planet. All the particles in the Earth's magnetic field are then disseminated elsewhere, which can really mess with technology if in some cases.

"It can generate electricity in those and produce extra currents, and those extra currents are what can flow through transformers and cause them to fail," Gyuk said.


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