Two-year solar storm has disruption potential : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Is it Y2K...or cyber-terrorism...or...

Two-Year Solar Storm Has Potential To Disrupt Everything Under the Sun

Communication systems, power transformers and satellites may malfunction


WASHINGTON -- If your electricity suddenly cuts out Jan. 1, 2000, don't immediately assume it's the Y2K computer glitch.

The culprit could be the sun.

As early as this summer, scientists expect the sun to begin its cyclical, two-year temper tantrum known as the solar maximum.

Every 11 years or so, the sun sinks into a surly funk, hurling star-size electrical storms into space.

If they strike Earth, these celestial hurricanes, known as coronal mass ejections, can short out satellites, toast power transformers and disrupt communications signals as they bend the planet's upper atmosphere and natural magnetic fields.

While there's nothing new about the "solar max," this particular cycle finds us more dependent than ever before on satellites, cell phones and other technology vulnerable to solar storms.

"The solar max can raise all kinds of Cain," warned solar physicist Don Michels, with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. "Look at all the ruckus caused when that pager satellite malfunctioned last spring. One satellite affected millions of people."

Michels was referring to a failure aboard the Galaxy IV satellite last May, which instantly put 45 million pagers out of action. Hughes Electronics Corp. says an onboard processor was to blame. Others believe the sun had a hand in it.

Since the last solar maximum, cell-phone usage has soared, skyrocketing from much less than 1 million subscribers in 1988 to an expected 100 million in 2000 -- when this solar maximum is expected to peak.

Cellular networks and radio communications are potentially vulnerable because solar storms can corrugate the normally dome-like ionosphere, the outer portion of the Earth's atmosphere, causing radio signals to bounce along it unpredictably. The storm cycles apparently have something to do with the complex roiling of the sun's scalding gases.

Meanwhile, satellites have been stacking up in orbit like delayed commuter flights.

Earth orbit is now home to more than 500 satellites, spying, tracking weather, guiding boats and planes and transmitting communications signals.

Scientists point out that satellites are doubly vulnerable. Small solar storms, more like belches, that never affect anything on Earth can scramble the electronics aboard satellites as charged particles cause short-circuits and power arcing.

The much larger coronal mass ejections can fry satellite electronics while also distorting satellite orbits by heating the upper atmosphere, which increases satellite drag. Enough excess drag can disorient navigational satellites and cause low-orbit satellites to come crashing to Earth.

The Defense Department estimates damage to government satellites alone from the upcoming violent solar weather could cost about $150 million a year. Despite years of study, scientists still have no firm explanation about what causes the solar maximum.


-- Kevin (, March 09, 1999


And now add the Leonid meteor shower and y2k to the mix, and it should be an interesting time. Any one of these three events could be enough to cause disruptions, but all three in the same time frame seem certain to cause some problems.

-- Online2much (, March 09, 1999.

If I wasn't a paranoid Y2Krazee, I would think that any of these uncertainties are reasonable risks to prepare for disruptions, let alone all 4 ;-)

-- Chris (, March 09, 1999.

If we get hit by a solar flare, we'll all be toast. If we get hit by a meteor we'll be hamburger. Itsa alwaysa sumethum to worry about......

-- bardou (, March 09, 1999.

Wow, I just posted a comment yesterday about how too many unrelated things get hooked into Y2K. One of those was solar flares. The article did accurately say that the solar cycle is every 11 years which puts the next solar max at around 2001, 2002 (I remember the last occuring in 1990). In all my working experience with space operations, I have seen disruptions occuring during solar max but never any failures.

"If they strike Earth, these celestial hurricanes, known as coronal mass ejections [I never heard them reference as this], can short out satellites, toast power transformers [very unlikely] and disrupt communications signals [extremely likely] as they bend the planet's upper atmosphere and natural magnetic fields [LOL]". This is very much like HEMP. Trouble is the released plasma travel too fast (within minutes) to react to protect satellites. But the good news is satellites are designed to withstand the extremes in this very harzardous envrionment in space. Scientists have known for years about this envrionment. The last part of the above quote is rather funny. They (solar flares) do not bend the earth's atmosphere. Solar winds bend magnetic field lines and are constantly blowing even during solar min. The released solar particles travel along these fields lines and cause "Northern lights".

Let see, I think there's also a Y2K connection with the ozone layer. I wonder how long it will take for that to surface.

-- Maria (, March 09, 1999.

Here you go, Maria--

What is a Coronal Mass Ejection?

"Coronal mass ejections (CME's) are dynamic events in which plasma which was initially contained on closed coronal magnetic field lines is ejected into interplanetary space. These events are daily occurrences, averaged over a solar cycle, and involve significant masses, typically 1015 to 1016 grams, and mechanical energies on the order of 1031 to 1032 ergs. The disruption of what might be regarded as a stable, magnetically-closed structure poses fundamental questions in the field of magnetohydrodynamics (MHD).

In practical terms, an improved understanding of mass ejections is also important, since they are known to play a major role in non-recurring storms in the Earth's magnetosphere and ionosphere, which in turn are responsible for enhanced auroral activity, satellite damage and some power station failures. Mass ejections create these disturbances by driving interplanetary shock waves and accelerating particles to relativistic speeds, all of which come "crashing" into the earth's magnetic environment. [see Gosling et al. (1974), Rust (1983), Sheeley et al. (1985), Schwenn (1986), Cane et al. (1987), Feynman and Garrett (1987), Kahler (1994), Bravo and Perez-Enriquez (1994), McAllister et al. (1996a), Weiss et al. (1996), Reames et al. (1996)].

And see The Mighty Roots of the Aurora, from University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

-- Tom Carey (, March 09, 1999.

...As if we don't have enough to worry about already!!!!!!

When's the Asteroid supposed to come and decimate what's left?

The only thing more horrifying than any of these is Liberace coming back to open a theatre in Branson.

Lord help us all.

Got candelabras?

-- INVAR (, March 09, 1999.

Every eleven years I have to answer questions about this. Every eleven years people get disappointed when I tell them they will notice little change, more static on cable than anything else. (And yes, I know the story about the Canadian power line - that is why they are supposed to have interrupters built along the line every so far.) Look, Y2K has never happened before, there is some uncertainty about just what will actually happen. BUT this happens every eleven and a fraction years! We KNOW what to expect.

-- Paul Davis (, March 09, 1999.

Also see this article from the October 19, 1998 issue of Government Computer News. I'm only posting an excerpt here. I recommend the entire article at the link to anyone interested.


DOD braces for space storms

Atmospheric disruptions in 2000 could interfere with satellite, comm systems

By Gregory Slabodkin

GCN Staff

Computer crashes are not the only threat to military and civilian systems come 2000. Air Force experts and other government scientists have concluded that violent electromagnetic space storms will wreak havoc on systems at about the same time unfixed date code fails.

Were going to have a huge storm [about] Jan. 1, 2000, so people wont know what to blame it on, said Ernie Hildner, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations Space Environment Center in Boulder, Colo. The centers Space Weather Operations, operated by NOAA and the Air Force, issues extraterrestrial event alerts to government and industry scientists hourly, much as the National Hurricane Center issues tropical storm or hurricane alerts.

Solar and geomagnetic events such as ion bombardments and explosions on the surface of the sun can damage or knock out satellite transmissions, hamper navigation systems, cut electric power and bring down telephone systems.

Unlike the year 2000 problem, space weather is a natural phenomenon that occurs in 11-year cycles. During the cycles, powerful geomagnetic storms generated by the sun spew bursts of high-energy particles and clouds of ionized gas that can damage satellites and affect the Earths magnetic field.

Sunspots, flares, filaments, coronal holes and mass ejections emanating from the sun throw off bursts of electromagnetic particles, radiation and solar wind. Geomagnetic storms occur when blasts of solar wind bend and stretch the Earths magnetic field.

The latest solar cycleCycle 23is expected to reach its maximum strength around 2000, far surpassing the strength of its predecessor, Hildner said.



-- Kevin (, March 09, 1999.

You too, Paul? I've seen three cycles come and go as an EE and Amateur Radio operator, and it seems that just before every peak these stories surface and have to be beaten back.

Semiconductors in satellites are hardened against radiation. The power grid can handle very large surges, Ontario's experience in 1979 notwithstanding.

Ask this question: which is more powerful at a given point, the effects of a solar flare, or a lightning strike?

No, I think we've got much bigger problems ahead than the odd CME.

-- sparks (, March 09, 1999.

You can put me in the DGI camp when it comes to worrying about solar max. Interesting post though.

-- Puddintame (, March 09, 1999.

The sunspots are important for another entirely different reason than their effect on electrical equipment. They have a very marked effect on human society, en masse. This was first noticed by Aleksandr Leonidovich Chizhevsky, a Soviet researcher exiled in the Gulag as punishment for his research, then honored posthumously by the Moscow Society of Naturalists. ALC divided the solar cycle into four distinct phases, each associated with a particular set of human attitudes, and demonstrated how the 11.1 year sunspot cycle correlates with all major mass movements in human history: wars, migrations, religious revivals, etc. The list of correlations is quite convincing. You can read about it in Steven Forrest9s book THE NIGHT SPEAKS. About the time of the solar maximum he says 3Energies abound. Everyone is excited, eager to respond en masse, for better or worse. An air of enthusiastic drunkenness suffuses the polity. Emigration increases. Wars begin. Tension is high.2

-- Shivani Arjuna (, March 09, 1999.

It looks like I'm going to have to put another layer of tin foil in my hat starting tomorrow.

-- Puddintame (, March 09, 1999.

Me too, PT... makes for better reception, doesn't it?. Weeeee-oooooooo.....

-- sparks (, March 09, 1999.

"Energies abound. Everyone is excited, eager to respond en masse, for better or worse. An air of enthusiastic drunkenness suffuses the polity. Emigration increases. Wars begin. Tension is high."

Oh boy! Throw in the full moon, plus all the women that will be in PMS and we've got enough disruptions to power the planet out of orbit! ;-)

-- Chris (, March 09, 1999.

But look on the bright side::

10 and 11 meters will be able to do teh world on 5 watts ..... ..... er.... that means that the ah Charlie boxcars of teh world... ... ummmmm welllll It's a bright side for 10M anyway!!


who has yet to put together a 10M allmode, but we'll see!!!

-- Chuck, a night driver (, March 09, 1999.

I don't think I could be called a GI or DGI on solar flares. I just think these two articles are good to know about for future reference.

In the article from Government Computer News was this quote about the current solar cycle:


The latest solar cycleCycle 23is expected to reach its maximum strength around 2000, far surpassing the strength of its predecessor, Hildner said.

Blackout potential

Geomagnetically induced current from space weather can be picked up by power lines and disable transformers, Hildner said. Solar Cycle 22 in 1989, for instance, left more than 6 million people in Quebec, Canada, without electric power for 12 hours, he said.

Weve had three pulses now of activity in this cycle, and in all three we have anecdotal information that the Northeast United States power grid has felt the effects, Hildner said. So far it hasnt risen to the level of where anybody has shut down or there has been enormous equipment damage.


To me this article and especially the quote "far surpassing the strength of its predecessor" means maybe there's a 10% chance of a solar flare knocking out my power for a little awhile. That's no big deal since I'm already prepared for that because of Y2K. This will be the fourth solar cycle since the 1960's.

Just the other day there was a news item warning that banks could fall victim to cyber-terrorism. Any chance a bank would ever claim a failure due to a solar flare? :-)


-- Kevin (, March 10, 1999.

Solar flares expected to peak around the first of the year. 'Horrible earthqukes to occur as the nine planets align 3/4/2000. y2k. Did we do something to get the universe ticked at us?

I hate to say it but I find myself agreeing with Paul and friends but for different reasons. I can't do anything to change the flares and the alignment of the planets but I can do something to prepare for y2k. Just so happens that it's the same preps for all of the above. Don't want to sound like a fatalist but whether I live or die is the luck of the draw. After too much time in a hostile enviornment, the mortality question surfaced and was answered by inner self. But if I live, I wish to do so in comfort, warm and with a full belly with loving family and companionable friends by my side. (Matter of fact, that kinda sounds like a good place to be at any time).

-- Lobo (, March 10, 1999.

Why do they say that this solar max will be stronger than other recent ones? Anyone know?

that stuff that Shivani Arjuna is talking about is quite true. Well, at least, the correlation is quite strong and is available for all to see. Constant conjunction might not prove causative connection, but it usually does. I have no trouble with the theory that different emanations from the sun might alter the behaviour of organisms, us included.

But I don't think that Lobo's alignments of the planets on 3/4/00 (sic) will matter at all, certainly not enough to cause earthquakes! Inverse square rule should see to it that the accumulated effects of the planets' gravity won't change anything.

And oh yeah; y2k?? That is going to suck.

-- humptydumpty (, March 10, 1999.


I just did some searching. It looks like the prediction that this solar max will be above average comes from the scientists mentioned in the following article. They're not predicting the all-time record solar max of 1957, though.

[begin article]

New sunspot cycle to be bigger than average

April 13, 1998: The current sunspot cycle will be above average but no record setter, according to scientists at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.


"The consensus [among solar physicists] is that this cycle will be above average in size and probably a fast riser," Wilson said. "Sunspot maximum should not be perceived as the top of the cycle curve, but instead it should be thought of as an interval of peak activity which usually spans about 2 to 4 years and includes the actual maximum in sunspot number." For Cycle 23, the peak interval starts in 1999.


Based on the various precursor techniques, Hathaway, Wilson, and Reichmann predict that Cycle 23 will rise faster than normal to its peak, attaining maximum amplitude sometime during the latter half of 1999 to the first half of 2000, and that it will measure about 170 plus or minus 20 units (yearly sunspot number). They expect Cycle 23 to continue until sometime in 2006 when the next cycle, Cycle 24, should begin.


-- Kevin (, March 10, 1999.

Sunspot numbers monthly from 1749 to the present are available at this link:

-- Kevin (, March 10, 1999.

Here's a graph of how sunspot cycle 23 is expected to turn out:

-- Kevin (, March 10, 1999.

This just up on Breaking News:

Solar 'S' Mark Foretells Solar Explosion, Scientists Say

[ For Educational Use Only ]

3/10/99 -- 3:54 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) - An 'S' mark found in X-ray photos of the sun may forecast powerful solar explosions that can cause power outages, block radio communications and scorch satellites in Earth orbit.

Scientists said Tuesday that X-ray solar images taken by a Japanese spacecraft show that an S-shaped structure develops on the face of the sun several days before an eruption of what is called a coronal mass ejection.

The S-shaped sign, said Richard Canfield of Montana State University, Bozeman, can be used as a solar eruption warning signal. This would give power companies and satellite operators about three extra days to prepare for the effects of a coronal mass ejection.

Current technology detects the solar explosions as they happen. This gives some advanced warning since it takes three or four days for the explosive wave to reach Earth. The 'S' sign detected by the X-ray satellite would add days to the warning, Canfield said.

``The X-ray images will tell us when something is likely to happen,'' said Canfield, a co-author of research that detected the 'S' sign.
``It could be developed into a powerful predictive tool.''

Coronal mass ejections are massive eruptions of electrically charged plasma, or superheated gas, from the outer atmosphere of the sun. The sudden release of energy can hurl 10 billion tons of gas into space at speeds of up to 2 million mph. The energy release can equal billions of megatons of TNT, said Canfield.

Such eruptions happen frequently and usually are harmless to the Earth. Occasionally, however, an explosion occurs on a side of the sun facing the Earth, sending a massive bubble of energy directly at the planet.

The Earth's magnetosphere shields the planet from most of the violence, but Earth's magnetic field lines can be charged suddenly with a powerful wave of electricity. Such surges along power lines have caused blackouts in the past, burning out transformers and disrupting service for thousands of people.

The wave of solar energy also can disrupt long-distance radio transmissions and can damage satellites that are in deep space, beyond the protective envelope of the Earth's magnetosphere.

George Withbroe, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientist, said the solar storm effects now are only a nuisance. Power companies protect their systems from the natural electrical surge, and satellites are affected only rarely.

When humans eventually return to the moon or voyage on to Mars, Withbroe said, the ability to predict solar storms could save lives of astronauts traveling beyond the Earth's magnetosphere.

``When we go to Mars, we will have to worry more about this,'' said Withbroe. He said it is likely that Mars-bound spacecraft will be equipped with a shielded compartment, which he called ``a storm cellar.'' If Mars voyagers were warned in advance of an approaching solar storm, he said, they could retreat to the shelter until the danger passed.
xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxx

-- Leska (, March 10, 1999.

Solar Max and the Grid

-- Mitchell Barnes (, March 10, 1999.

Ah well, anyone who is up north should get some very nice displays of the aurora. I was in northern Wisconsin about 21 years ago and they were very nice then. See - an upside to everything!

-- Paul Davis (, March 10, 1999.

Also see this even newer thread on the same subject...

-- Kevin (, March 10, 1999.

excellent Kevin, thank you.

-- humpty (, March 10, 1999.

solar flares can do more than turn off the electricity. the plasma can heat our ionosphere to the point of RAISING (raising a lot) local temperatures and affecting weather patterns (i.e. rain/no rain). also, i heard on the ArtBell broadcast from 3/9/99 (quest said it; no, i don't know his sources) that this solar cycle could produce the largest flares of the entire preceeding millenia (how anyone knows this, i dunno). for more info on what can happen, check out: they have links to satellite info also if you get REALLY interested!

-- sarah (, March 11, 1999.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ