Solar storms 'could be more disruptive within decades'

Solar storms could be and become more disruptive within decades scientists of the University of Reading say...

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

solarflare Within decades, solar storms are likely to become more disruptive to planes and spacecraft, say researchers at Reading University. And what we must not forget, I would like to add, is that they also have the capability of upsetting things like the smart grid and communications on Earth.

The work, published in Geophysical Research Letters, predicts that once the Sun shifts towards an era of lower solar activity, more hazardous radiation will reach Earth.

The team says the Sun is currently at a grand solar maximum with the current phase having begun in the 1920s - and it has lasted throughout the space age.

Mike Lockwood, professor of space environment physics at Reading, said that all the evidence suggests that the Sun will shortly exit from a grand solar maximum that has persisted since before the start of the space age.

According to him in a grand solar maximum, the peaks of the 11-year sunspot cycle are larger and the average number of solar flares and associated events such as coronal mass ejections are greater.

Prof Lockwood added that, on the other hand, in a grand solar minimum there are almost no sunspots for several decades. The last time this happened was during the Maunder Minimum, between about 1650 and 1700.

The research indicates that most radiation hits the Earth during periods of middling solar activity. Increased radiation is a particular problem for aviation and communications - technology that did not exist the last time the sun cycle ended its grand maximum. And, I would hasten to add, our over-reliance on this technology, from satellite communications and -navigation, to so many other things that could be affected, could very well be our undoing.

The research is based on evidence from ice cores and tree trunks going back 10,000 years. The team measured levels of nitrates and cosmogenic isotopes which enter our atmosphere and are deposited in ice and organic material.

From the concentration of nitrates in the ice sheet it is, apparently, possible to discern that there has been a solar event at this or that slot in time and it would appear that all the nasty effects cropped up at more middling activity than what we have been used to. Oh great.

From this data it could be surmised that an unfortunate combination of solar conditions is coming our way in the next few decades and it is just a question of how much worse the radiation gets and how long it lasts.

The most disruptive radiation is from solar energetic particles, which are carried away from the Sun by coronal mass ejections, or solar storms, which explode from the Sun's surface. The evidence seems to suggest that although there are fewer solar storms once the Sun leaves its grand maximum, they are more powerful, faster and therefore carry more particles.

A decline in solar activity also allows more radiation from other parts of the galaxy to enter the Solar System. On top of that there would be sun spots that could give us trouble and that could seriously play havoc with the technology that we all happen to rely on that much.

While I am certainly no Luddite, as I keep saying, I would suggest though that we do have our data backed up in the form of paper records and even microfilm and microfiche, once again.

If technology fails pencil, pen and paper will still stand and it is for that reason that I still do like to do and keep things in “hard copy”.

With prognoses like this and predictions should we really trust our data to the cloud, for instance. Personally I do not think so for then the connections happen to fail access to that data will be nonexistent and who knows for how long.

While our computers at home and at the office, the ones that stand alone with their own hard drives and such may still work in such an event, and thus we will be able to get at locally stored information, and we will be able to do work on those machines, if our work depends on access to the cloud then it may just be a NO, NO event.

Time to really rethink how and where we use technology and for what...

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