Powerful solar storm disrupts communications

Sunday, February 20, 2011

WASHINGTON - A powerful solar flare has triggered the largest space weather storm in four years, disrupting some ground communications on earth.

Classified as a Class X flare, the Feb 15 event also spewed billions of tons of charged particles, igniting a geomagnetic storm in the Earth’s magnetic field, said Daniel Baker, director of University of Colorado-Boulder’s Lab for Space Physics.

Such powerful ejections can disrupt airline navigation systems and power grids to the safety of airline crews and astronauts, according to a Colorado statement.

“The Sun is coming back to life,” said Baker, an internationally known space weather expert.

The Sun has been in its most quiescent state since early 20th century, said Baker.

From a scientific standpoint, a Class X event — the most powerful kind of solar flare — is exciting, said Baker, who is also an astrophysicist.

“But as a society, we can’t afford to let our guard down when operating spacecraft in the near-Earth environment.

“We understand much more about what is happening and can build more robust systems to withstand the effects,” Baker said.

“It will be interesting to see how well our technological systems will withstand the rigors of space weather as the Sun gets back to higher activity levels,” Baker added.

Filed under: Science and Technology

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