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Communications Disturbances Predicted Due To Solar Storms

August 7, 2011

American government scientists are warning users of satellite, telecommunication, and electrical equipment to be prepared for potential disruptions due to the recent occurrence of solar flares in the sun, Reuters reported on Saturday.

Earlier last week, three coronal mass ejections (CMEs) were released by the sun following solar flares — the first on August 2 and two others the following day. The initial CME arrived at Earth on August 4, around 5pm EDT, while the remaining two combined and reached our planet on August 5 at about 1:20pm EDT.

The latter “double-punch” CME caused “a strong compression of the magnetosphere” and was expected to “result in auroras and minor to moderate disturbances in power grids at high latitudes.” The Reuters report suggests that those disruptions could come over the next few days.

“The magnetic storm that is soon to develop probably will be in the moderate to strong level,” Joseph Kunches, a space weather scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center, told the wire service Saturday. He added that they predicted the issues would rate about a “two or three out of five on the NOAA Space Weather Scale.”

“In the wake of the shocked solar wind, G2 (Moderate) Geomagnetic Storm conditions have been seen already, and a warning for G3 (Strong) Storming has been issued. Strong, Prolonged Southward Interplanetary Magnetic Field and fast solar wind continue to fuel the disturbance,” the Space Weather Prediction Center said in a statement posted to their website on Saturday.

Kunches told Reuters that the solar storms could affect communications and global positioning system (GPS) satellite, and could produce an aurora, or natural light display, that could be visible as far south as Wisconsin and Minnesota. In the past, such events have caused major disruptions–including one in 1989 that left roughly six million Quebec residents powerless for several hours–but Kunches doubted the predicted disturbances would have that severe an impact.

The storms could worsen in the years ahead, with the next peak for solar events due in 2013, according to the Reuters report. That solar maximum, Space Weather Prediction Center Director Tom Bogdan told the news agency, could result in an increase in such events over the next three to five years.

Image Caption: This still from the video shows the CME lifting off from sunspot 1261. Credit: NASA/SDO

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