Solar Flares: Looking on the Bright Side

By Michael R. Kelly
SC Staff Writer

Any telecommunication problems occurring in the last week are likely due to the recent solar storm that bombarded the earth with plasma.

The sun switches its polarity approximately every eleven years. This disturbs the sun’s magnetic field across the solar system, known as the heliosphere. At this time, the sun is at its peak in solar weather.

This solar weather is expressed through solar flares and solar wind. These environmental hazards blast plasma into space, which then hits anything and everything in its path.

Solar flares are rated A, B, C, M or X. Each level is ten times more powerful than the last. On January 7, 2014, an XClass solar flare seven times the size of Earth ejected billions of particles into space.

These disruptions can interact with the earth’s magnetic field and destroy human technology.

In July of 2012 a massive solar eruption shot into space, barely missing Earth. If it had hit the Earth, communications could have been interrupted, satellites would have stopped working, and local power grids may have been brought down.

In the past, solar flares have caused widespread radio blackouts. Such an event took place in April of 2013, in which an M6.5 level solar flare struck the earth.

On September 10, the sun started to reach its peak in solar weather and shot two X-Class solar flares toward the Earth. Following this event, on September 12 two coronal mass ejections hit the Earth.

Due to this, there have been reports of the Aurora Borealis being seen as far south as New England.

The aurora is a phenomenon that occurs when solar wind interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field. This creates a beautiful light that many have traveled far to see only for a short period of time.

The Borealis refers to the northern lights, which is best seen around both the fall and spring equinox. The lights commonly appear as a dark green or red.

On September 13, the solar activity peaked and the aurora has been seen locally in clear weather conditions. While the sun continues to flip its polarity, there will be an extended period of solar activity.

Whether walking home from late classes or going to Late Nite, students should take a look at the sky to try to catch a glimpse of these lights in the coming nights.

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