Thursday, May 23, 2013

The fury of the Sun

This has been highly unusual.

Last week saw some of the most extraordinary activity on the surface of the sun.  For four straight days, the sun has released massive flares in a fit of angry action.   What was the force of the blasts?  Like "millions of 100-megaton hydrogen bombs" according to Discover magazine. Lucky for us, the flares are not headed towards Earth.  However, NASA has admitted that a few of its space observatories could receive "glancing blows" from the bursts of solar radiation.  These satellites can be placed into a safe mode for their own protection.

In reading astronomy news, the term "solar flare" is one you can come across a great deal.  Almost so much that it becomes a phrase you take for granted and the meaning is lost.  So today I actually had to ask, "what is a solar flare?"  I mean, I know it's an erupting plume of "flame" from the sun's surface that spews radiation into space, sometimes very much to the detriment of our electrical systems.  But what is it?  So I looked it up.

Solar flares occur after a build up of electromagnetic energy in the sun's...or any star's I'm assuming...atmosphere.  The sudden burst that results sends out radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum. But while this past week's solar activity has been unusually intense, it is actually quite normal.  Apparently, the sun has an eleven year cycle and this is indicative of it building towards its peak.

There have long been speculations that our number may well be up one day.  Meaning, one of those exceptionally large solar flares will send enough electromagnetic radiation our way to cause a great deal of damage.  No, it won't kill us but it could kill a number of power grids.  Without electricity, we would soon find ourselves facing a whole new way of life.  At least for a time or in various regions.

Maybe the astrologists have a genethliac point after all.  Our fate is in the stars.

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