Saturday, June 11, 2011

Solar Activity

Farmers noted disrupted radio and GPS signals in their equipment this week. The largest solar flare in the past four years was emitted from the center of our solar system this week, our sun. NASA said it sent masses of charged particles outward into space, including toward Earth.

The radiation from Monday's flare, known as a Coronal Mass Ejection, should pass the Earth today, Friday and Saturday. The charged particles will speed by at some 560 miles per second.

Do not be afraid. NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo., says the Earth is well-protected by its atmosphere and magnetic field. When solar radiation picks up, the most dramatic effect is usually a brightening of the aurora borealis, the famous northern lights in the sky over Arctic regions. After a big flare they are sometimes visible in the northernmost of the 48 contiguous states.

What makes this storm interesting, said Joe Kunches of the Space Weather Prediction Center, is that there were actually three flares in succession -- and radiation from the last and biggest of them is travelling faster than the particles from the first two.

"What's the effect of the triple punch?" said Kunches. "Stay tuned."

Outbursts such as the current one are actually quite common, scientists say. But modern technology can be sensitive to solar storms; scientists say satellites, power grids and communications networks can suffer outages.

"Each time we use a cell phone or pager, check a GPS locator, turn on a light, or take an over-the-pole flight, space weather could have an effect," said Jack Hayes, director of NOAA's National Weather Service, in a press statement. The Space Weather Prediction Center is part of his operation.

"Solar Flare 2011
The sun's activity, which follows 11-year cycles, last peaked in 2002 and is now apparently picking up again, headed toward its next predicted crest in 2013. A 2008 National Academy of Sciences report tried to warn that we are not prepared for the biggest -- albeit rarest -- solar storms, which it said could cause 20 times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina.

In 1989 there was a nine-hour power blackout in most of Quebec -- and people were surprised when scientists later said a solar flare had probably caused it by overloading circuits. In 2000, pager traffic in the U.S. was knocked out for a day, apparently because of a communications satellite that got fried by solar radiation.

This week's storm is unlikely to come close, Kunches said, but there may be sporadic power outages, and radio communications may be affected. Airlines routinely redirect planes on polar routes to stay further south than usual when a solar storm is in progress; if they are more than 82 degrees north of the equator, their radio links can get spotty.

"Our star is waking up again," said Kunches, "and starting to do what we expect it to do."

There was discussion about satellites and technology and how they are used for everything from solar flares to radio activity and radar on earth. This fellow replied to another person bemoaning technology.

"You must be very very young. The definition work would be very different from what you see now. For food I would bike to the local farm stand instead of going to a big box store. The police are useless anyways in the USA. They don't do police work just had out traffic tickets. You are 99% less likely to get caught being a burglar today than speeding down a road. That why you should have a few high powered assualt rifles for burglars to answer to. No it would not be chaos. treblig56 you definitely make close to minimum wage. In corporate America every single person understands how we are now slaves to electronics."

Interesting how people view science, isn't it?

As an amateur radio operator, I remember these flares and how it impacted talking to other amateurs around the world. My friend Gerald, K0CQ said;

"was on 50 and 144 MHz, my best distance making contacts was New England on 144 MHz and Florida or Arizona on 50 MHz. Reports were that the extended propagation extended to 432 MHz occasionally, but mostly it was like what we call Sporadic E propagation, with very strong signals to locations that changed continuously.

I thought I heard buzzes on some signals typical of reflections off aurora curtains a few times and had that flare not missed the earth had been expecting strong aurora. So it might have been Aurora E propagation where the charged particles settle into a layer that's not moving and give wide area reflections at VHF. The reflections from Sporadic E and Aurora E are very strong, low power stations with minimal antennas can contact all over the country. Southeast stations were making contacts over much of the Caribbean.

It is like skip on 27 MHz CB but Sporadic E is very much more common on 27 MHz than on 50 which is more common than on 144 MHz. Its generally very much frequency dependent and less common the higher the frequency.

The exact causes of Sporadic E are debated, I suspect there are several. Some times there is correlation of Sporadic E reflecting clouds with tall thunderheads having started the E cloud in the upper atmosphere which generally tend to drift rapidly. And it was a stormy day away from here.

It was a good radio day, and there's a VHF radio contest this weekend, the common hope on the VHF ham bands was that it repeats the next two days."

Oh, I remember those days! Now we are just trying to get all the fields sprayed properly and the guidance system goes haywire in these solar storms!


1 comment:

  1. "Ed,
    For a number of reasons the B-52 crew members of my speciality were expected to do most of the communicating on the HF Radio, and it could be a challenge to find a frequency that would allow us to talk to whom ever.

    On long hauls I would be in one to the pilots seats monitoring the plane and communicating on UHF. To the best of my memory in the 225 to 400 megacycles range.

    Reason for that was at the higher latitudes the HF could be really problematic. Here we were tooling along between Greenland & Canada, and I gave a Greenland Base's tower a call on UHF for them to relay our position report. They never answered but the AFB in Puerto Rico answered the call. They were a little indignant that we had the wrong base but became friendly when we asked them to relay our position report top SAC Hq in Nebraska. Our position Report in fact put us in a position to admire the view of all that Snow & Ice ether side of us.