Did you know that every eleven or so years, the sun becomes much more active, spewing tons of energy out into the cosmos and even hurling it in our direction here on Earth? Most people don't. Every time the sun flings off this energy, it's called a solar flare and can contain 100 BILLION times the energy of the H-Bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Earlier this week, NASA released this statement concerning the upcoming peak of solar flares expected in 2013:
A century-class solar storm could result in 20 times more damage than the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in the south-eastern US in August 2005. The storm killed 1,800 people and caused damages worth $81 billion.
Solar Flare & Prominence
Sounds pretty dire doesn't it?! Let's put it into perspective though. Solar flares don't affect us here on the ground. Earth's atmosphere acts as a shield to protect us from cosmic radiation. The magnetosphere will absorb the incoming flare and one of two things will happen. If the polarity (yep, like a magnet) of the flare and the atmosphere are the same we won’t notice anything on the ground because the magnetosphere will absorb the flare. If the polarities are opposite, the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) will be activated and be able to be seen much farther south than usual, possibly even here in Middle Georgia.
Our satellites however, are extremely vulnerable. Because they are outside of the atmosphere they have no extra protection against these flares. The good news though is they can be temporarily disabled during a storm to prevent damage. You may notice a brief lack of signal on your cell phone but that's about it.
What NASA is describing is an extremely powerful solar flare that ejects from the sun and travels in the direction of the Earth with no warning, giving us no time to shut down satellite systems, etc. This could cause severe blackouts and loss of satellite based signals (GPS, satellite radios) for weeks or even months. While a possibility, it's a very slim one. In fact you're more likely to win the Powerball drawing next Tuesday. In case you're wondering, those odds are 1 in 195 million. In other words, no need to start hoarding foods and survival supplies just yet.
Meteorologist Jason Disharoon