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Will There Really Be Three Days Of Total Darkness Next Month?
Ah, our Sun. For thousands of years it's inspired awe, confusion, and fear in the hearts and minds of many a civilization. Today is no different. It seems every year there comes an influx of wild theories and predictions for what the Sun is going to do to us this time.
Recently, a series of infographics (or should we call them disinfographics) claiming NASA confirmed 3 days of total darkness would be upon us this December. Or was it 6 days? That's one of the biggest signs that you're dealing with a hoax: nobody can seem to get the days straight.
Myth debunking site Snopes has already covered this panic, thoroughly dismissing the ideas as false. In fact, some of the very same graphics warning us of an "impending blackout" were cycling around two years ago during the "Mayan Calendar" and "Planetary Alignment" craze.
So why are they making rounds again this year? Everyone's favorite misunderstood phenomena: Solar Flares.
Solar Flare Classifications
A & B Class: The lowest and most common type. Very common. We don't even notice them.
C Class: Small size. Occasionally create very weak ejections. Barely ever reach Earth.
M Class: Medium size. Can cause small to medium radio disruptions. Very rarely cause auroras.
X Class: Largest size. Can cause heavy radio disruptions. Can cause large aurora activity. Possibility to disturb electrical equipment at highest levels.
What's really going to happen?
As I've already covered before, this year has been the most active year for solar flares in the past 15 years. Between October 19th and 27th alone there were 5 X-class solar flares recorded by NASA. As of November 4th, NASA was tracking a large sunspot known as AR 12192, in an area so large the viewing public could see it during last month's partial eclipse (with the aid of eclipse goggles).
The Sun is picking up in activity, just like it always does around this time in it's cycle. This has been a particularly active cycle compared to the last century or so of cycles, but don't get out your tin-foil hats just yet. The last 100 years have over all been some of the slowest cycles in the history of solar observation, this active cycle included. Even the largest flare recorded this year doesn't come close to the most massive ejection ever recorded. (In fact, NASA says it wouldn't even make a "Top 50" list.)
Chances are we will see continued flares into December. There is always a chance, however small, that the Sun will burp out a truly massive one, but the experts are skeptical. So far we've only seen some increased aurora activity and a faint tickle of disruption to radio waves. But even if a huge flare does eject the result would hardly be the "3-6 DAYS OF TOTAL DARKNESS" that's plastered all over Facebook.
Flares can knock out electric power stations, true. It's happened before. A completely improbable "worldwide disruption" of a flare could have this effect. Even then, the world would not be plunged into darkness as some fear. In fact, increased solar activity produces some pretty awesome light shows in our atmospheres in the form of auroras.
No, the world is not going to go dark any time soon. You can take those graphics and fearful rants off your Facebook wall now.