The Sun and Solar Events: Sunspots, EMP, CME, Solar Flares, Storms, Max and More.
Year 2016 Update
Things have changed. When this page was originally published, solar maximum was predicted to have been wrapped up by now. Such is not the case. Scientists are now saying solar maximum is still very much in the active phase. In other words, the disaster scenarios listed further down the page are still in play.
And, yes. solar activity can affect cell phone service.
The sunspot cycle is approximately 11 years.
Updated Original Article
Well, folks. There was some scientific speculation we were going to get pasted by a solar superstorm. Zenith time is here for the eleven-year sunspot, solar flare, solar storm cycle. The Sun has exhibited certain anomalous characteristics, but looking good so far. And as the new year begins, the peak of the 11-year cycle is starting to wind down. [Update: this prediction has been changed. It is now being predicted the worst could actually still be ahead.]
The next section is a list of common solar-related events for year 2016.
And then the rest of the page is dedicated to everything you would ever want to know about sunspots, solar flares, solar storms, solar winds, coronal mass ejections (CMEs), and electromagnetic pulses (EMP’s). Most of the information on this page was compiled from various government resources.
Reference List: Sunspots, 2010, solar flares, eclipse, solstice, solar storms, 2011, solar wind storms, solar superstorms, 2012, storm, CME, EMP, 2013, Solar Max, 2014, 2015, 2016.
Year 2016 Solar Calendar
Solar / Lunar Eclipses and Other Solar Events
- January 02, Saturday - Perihelion: 0.9833 AU (Earth Perihelion: Earth closest to the Sun.)
- March 08, Tuesday - Total Solar Eclipse
- March 19, Saturday - Vernal Equinox (The Spring equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The Fall equinox in the Southern Hemisphere.)
- March 23, Wednesday - Pen. Lunar Eclipse
- June 20, Monday - Summer Solstice (The longest daylight day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The shortest daylight day of the year in the Southern Hemisphere.)
- July 04, Monday - Aphelion: 1.0168 AU (Earth Aphelion: Earth farthest from the Sun.)
- September 01, Thursday - Annular Solar Eclipse
- September 16, Friday - Pen. Lunar Eclipse
- September 22, Thursday - Autumnal Equinox (The Fall equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The Spring (vernal) equinox in the Southern Hemisphere.)
- December 21, Thursday - Winter Solstice (The shortest daylight day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The longest daylight day of the year in the Southern Hemisphere.)
If you are interested in what the moon will be up to this year, here is its full year calendar schedule; includes moon phases, apogees/perigees. more.
Sunspots - Solar Flares - Solar Storms - Solar Max: About the Sun
The Sun is approximately 1.4 million kilometers (870,000 miles) wide and contains over 99 percent of the mass of the solar system. Energy radiation averages over 380 billion trillion kilowatts. Unfortunately, the energy released by the Sun is not constant. The Sun's surface is a chaotic arena of sunspots, tangled magnetic fields, and arc-shaped clouds of plasma. Once in a while, events occur releasing enormous amounts of energy in the forms of solar flares, solar storms, wind storms, and solar superstorms; along with huge coronal mass ejections of hot/electrified gases/materials and electromagnetic pulses (EMP’s).
Sunspots - Solar Flares - Solar Storms - Solar Max: Space Weather
When aimed at Earth, solar flares and coronal mass ejections create space weather. The charged particles from large storms blast Earth’s magnetic field. The charged particles interacting with Earth’s magnetic field generate auroras, but can also be destructive. Previous solar storms have destroyed satellites and damaged power grids causing blackouts.
The Sun produces sunspots and solar storms over an 11-year cycle of activity; which is driven by the reversal of its magnetic poles. At solar maximum, solar storms (coronal mass ejections and flares) are at maximum frequency, intensity, and duration. The next period of solar maximum is due around 2010 thru 2012. Space weather occurs as solar storms from the Sun travel through space and impact the Earth’s magnetosphere. Understanding space weather is important to our national security and economy; because solar storms can affect the advanced technology we have become so dependent upon. There are two kinds of solar storms: coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and solar flares. A flare happens when magnetic energy peaks near the Sun's surface and explodes; resulting in an intense burst of light, including X-rays. The much more severe CME occurs when magnetic field lines snap. It is this event which can and does send the most material and other high speed particles towards Earth; usually at near the speed of light.
Sunspots - Solar Flares - Solar Storms - Solar Max: The NOAA Space Weather Scales Measurement System
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have developed a measurement system for space weather conditions; particularly as it relates to its effects on Earth.
There are three categories:
Geomagnetic Storms: disturbances in the geomagnetic field caused by solar winds. Rating scale G1 – G5.
Solar Radiation Storms: radiation levels of solar wind particles. Rating scale S1 – S5.
Radio Blackouts: ionosphere disturbances caused by X-ray emissions from the Sun. Rating scale R1 – R5.
*The following three tables have been included for reference purposes. Even though these tables have been abbreviated, they are still somewhat long. Probably be best to just give them a quick review for now and proceed to the much more interesting Historical Section.*
*Government table format is in descending order of severity*
NOAA Space Weather Scale for Geomagnetic Storms:
G5: Some power grid systems may experience complete collapse or blackouts. Pipeline currents can reach hundreds of amps. HF (high frequency) radio propagation may be impossible in many areas for days at a time. Satellite navigation may be degraded for days; low-frequency radio navigation can be out for hours. Auroras seen at low latitudes.
G4: Possible widespread power system voltage control problems; protective systems will mistakenly trip out key assets from the grid. HF radio propagation sporadic. Satellite navigation degraded for hours. Low-frequency radio navigation disrupted. Auroras seen at mid-to-low latitudes.
G3: Power system voltage corrections may be required; false alarms triggered on some protection devices. Intermittent satellite navigation and low-frequency radio navigation problems may occur. HF radio may be intermittent. Aurora has been seen as mid-latitudes.
G2: High-latitude power systems may experience voltage alarms, long-duration storms may cause transformer damage. HF radio propagation can fade at higher latitudes. Auroras visible at high-to-mid-latitudes.
G1: Possible weak power grid fluctuations. Migratory animals affected. Auroras commonly visible at high latitudes.
NOAA Space Weather Scale for Solar Radiation Storms:
S5: Radiation risk in high-flying aircraft at high latitudes. Satellites may be rendered useless. Permanent damage to solar panels possible. Complete blackout of HF (high frequency) communications possible in polar regions. GPS/radio-navigation extremely unreliable.
S4: Radiation risk in high-flying aircraft at high latitudes. Degradation of satellite and solar panel efficiency. Blackout of HF radio communications through the polar regions. Increased GPS/radio-navigation errors.
S3: Radiation risk in high-flying aircraft at high latitudes. Sporadic satellite interference. Degradation of HF radio propagation in polar regions. GPS/radio-navigation errors likely.
S2: May be high-flying aircraft radiation risk at high latitudes. Infrequent satellite single-event upsets possible. Small effects on HF propagation and GPS/radio-navigation.
S1: No biological concerns. No satellite concerns. May be occasional HF radio static.
NOAA Space Weather Scale for Radio Blackouts:
R5: Complete HF (high frequency) radio blackout on sunlit side of the Earth for periods lasing several hours. GPS/radio-navigation outages planet-wide.
R4: HF communications blackout on most of the sunlit side of Earth for one to two hours. Minor GPS/radio-navigation disruptions.
R3: Wide area blackout of HF communications for periods of approximately an hour on sunlit side of Earth. GPS/radio-navigation degradation.
R2: Limited HF blackouts. Limited GPS/radio-navigation degradation.
R1: Minor degradation of HF communications. Minor GPS/radio-navigation degradation for brief periods.
*end of NOAA tables*
Sunspots - Solar Flares - Solar Storms - Solar Max: Historical
The September 1, 1859 Event aka The Carrington Event:
On August 28 numerous sunspots occurred (sunspots are regions of intense magnetic fields). These magnetic fields can intertwine and result in a violent release of energy (called a solar flare). Solar flares were observed from August 28 to September 2. On September 1, the Sun released a massive cloud of magnetically charged plasma called a coronal mass ejection (CME). Within hours, telegraph wires in both the United States and Europe spontaneously shorted out, causing numerous fires. Auroras were documented as far south as Rome and Hawaii. Additional auroras occurred at the South Pole. The 1859 Event was an unlucky combination of three factors. The CME was extraordinarily fast; the magnetic fields were extremely intense; the magnetic fields were in direct opposition to Earth's magnetic fields. This combination overwhelmed the Earth's magnetic field, allowing charged particles to penetrate into Earth's upper atmosphere; thus creating the havoc.
A March 1989 Incident: A lesser solar storm caused the Canadian power grid to go down for over nine hours. Resulting damages and loss of revenue estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
A 1994 Incident: A solar storm caused major malfunctions to two communications satellites.
Other storms have affected systems ranging from cell phone service and TV signals to GPS systems and electrical power grids.
The 1859 Event happened due to the resulting electrical discharges brought on by the Sun’s penetration into the Earth’s atmosphere. Considering all the technology the Sun has to play with today…
Sunspots - Solar Flares - Solar Storms - Solar Max: Hypothesis
If all the Sun needs to create havoc are some copper wires, a telegraph key, and luddite technology batteries; then what chance does today’s technology have; especially in regards to circuit boards and microchips?
Paraphrased Excerpt from Testimony before the Committee on Homeland Security:
"One example of a physical threat is an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) event. An EMP may also be a naturally-occurring event caused by solar flares and storms disrupting the Earth’s magnetic field. A solar storm, according to an article in Scientific American, could “severely damage satellites, disable radio communications, and cause continent-wide electrical black-outs that would require weeks or longer to recover from."
** end of testimony **
An electromagnetic pulse ( EMP ) is defined as a burst of electromagnetic radiation resulting from a suddenly fluctuating magnetic field. The resulting electric and magnetic fields may couple with electrical/electronic systems to produce damaging current and voltage surges.
Vulnerable circuit boards and microchips are everywhere. Consumer electronics barely scratch the service. Medical equipment is not a happy thought; neither are the electronically-controlled nuclear power plants. Most vehicles (land, sea, and air) are loaded with microchips. For that matter; most of our civilization’s entire infrastructure is one big, happy pile of circuit boards.
Then, of course, there are the ICBMs and nuclear stockpiles. Our nuclear weapons, with all their electronics, are hopefully protected from this sort of thing; but what about everyone else? Just what would a short in the precisely wrong circuit location do? The phrase “static discharge” could suddenly have a whole new meaning.
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