"Planet Buster" solar flare

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Seems we had a near miss with an early taste of electronic breakdown

From BBC http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_363000/363358.stm

Internet reveals solar explosion's target

By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

A tremendous explosion took place on the surface of the Sun last Tuesday and for a few very nervous hours astronomers did not know whether it was heading for Earth. The blast threw a jet of superheated plasma carrying magnetic energy into space at speeds of 1,000 kilometres per second (600 miles per second). However, using the speed of the Internet, astronomers around the world rapidly compared images and decided that a worldwide alert was unnecessary.


The Solar and Heliospheric Observer (SOHO) satellite observed the solar explosion, which astronomers call a coronal mass ejection (CME). The explosive event was "a real planet-buster", according to Dr Richard Fisher of Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Centre. If the magnetic energy within the cloud of superhot gas had interacted with the Earth's magnetic field it would have sparked spectacular aurora at polar latitudes. But more worryingly it could also induce power blackouts, block radio communications and trigger phantom commands capable of sending satellites spinning out of their proper orbits. Cellular phones, global positioning signals and space-walking astronauts were all at risk.

Hit or miss?

"When the coronal mass ejection was observed we were not sure whether the mass ejection was moving toward the Earth or directly away from the Earth" said Paal Brekke, SOHO Deputy Project Scientist. Astronomers were particularly concerned that the event was followed by an increase in the flux of sub-atomic particles from the Sun. So the scientists quickly downloaded Internet images of the Sun taken by observatories in the USA, Austria, Australia, and Japan. They then compared images the taken before and after the event. "Because the data are so distributed and so accessible we were able to identify and track this event," said one astronomer. "Even just a few years ago, this kind of instant international collaboration would have been impossible." Fortunately, it was soon established that the CME was headed directly away from the Earth - this time. Preliminary analysis by Dr Simon Plunkett, of the Naval Research Laboratory in the United States, shows that if the CME were travelling towards the Earth, it would have arrived in just two and a half days.

The other Y2K problem

Solar activity waxes and wanes in an 11-year cycle, which is expected to peak sometime early next year. Astronomers point out that the solar menace comes at the same time as computers around the world could struggle to cope with problems caused by the Millennium or Year 2000 (Y2K) bug. Some solar physicists have called the effects from the Sun "the other Y2K problem". "The SOHO satellite will play a key role in early detection of solar storms, which is important for issuing warnings," added Dr Brekke.

-- jjbeck (jjbeck@recycler.com), June 09, 1999



I discovered the sun spot web site due to a thread here last week - went to check it out (Tuesday last?) and it showed a sun spot number of 214!!! instead of the predicted 174 and higher than any other day for many years (according to their graphs). Bugged me then, bugs me now. I thought they were able to predict this stuff better than that. Thank you for the update.

-- Kristi (securx@succeed.net), June 09, 1999.

The exact numbers aren't predictable - they are estimated by comparing the shape of the curve in the years prior to the predicted maximum years to former curves. Take a look at the graphs sometime - the numbers are quite erratic - it would not surprise any astronomer if they started to diminish tomorrow, or continued increasing for another year or two before the decrease began. The eleven year cycle is just an average.

-- Paul Davis (davisp1953@yahoo.com), June 09, 1999.

Davis says ,,,,,The eleven year cycle is just an average.

I suppose "planet buster" is """"just"""" a term!

-- unspun@lright (mikeymac@uswest.net), June 09, 1999.

"planet buster" definately gets my attention!!

-- Moore Dinty moore (not@thistime.com), June 09, 1999.

A "coronal mass ejection" would probably due Davis some good.

-- Amused (Laughing@davis.com), June 09, 1999.


LP (apparently a specialist in this area) gave a good explanation of these figures at the following link a while ago.


Just thought I'd help.

-- newlurker (no@no.com), June 09, 1999.

Planet buster is a very poor term. As I am now 45, I have already lived through four sunspot maximum cycles, and enjoy following the sunspots at max using a small telescope rigged for projection viewing. I have seen NO breakdowns, zero, none, zip, nada - due to sunspots that affected me personally. Way over 90% of the human race would say the same thing.

Astronomical phenomena have all repeated themselves countless times during the history of the planet. The planet is still here. Aside from the collision of Earth with an asteriod or comet, or a nearby supernova explosion, the effects on us will be very limited.

-- Paul Davis (davisp1953@yahoo.com), June 10, 1999.

Gotta agree with Paul Davis so far on this one.

Other than that we have many more satellites in orbit now that are vulnerable to damage from solar blasts than we did 11 years ago, the current solar maximum is not likely to cause particularly more noticeable damage than any did in the past.

Of course, one must keep in mind the distinction between rapid round-the-world reporting of damage (which is certainly greater now than ever before) and the damage itself. Also, the distinction between the damage itself and the consequences of greater-than-ever dependence on things subject to that damage (remember that pager outage when the Galaxy satellite suddenly went bad several months ago?).

-- No Spam Please (nos_pam_please@hotmail.com), June 10, 1999.

Thank you Mr. Davis! Fisher should have known better than to use such a sensationalist term outside the academic circles he frequents. I would hope that he would come up for air long enough to see how much disruption he's caused, and release a statement to clairfy his "mass ejection."

Sadly, if he's anything like the physicists I've known, he's probably enjoying it too much to put an end to it for a while. Kind of like the enjoyment a child gets by digging up an anthill, and watching the ants running in all directions.

"Planet buster," indeed!

-- LP (soldog@hotmail.com), June 10, 1999.

Latest from a senior NASA official on the "Planet Buster" and why it was missed by SOHO/LASCO. Denies cover-up.

http://www.earthchangestv.com/breaking/June/0613officialnasaresponse.h tm

Youre welcome.

-- W0lv3r1n3 (W0lv3r1n3@yahoo.com), June 15, 1999.

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