A Gigantic Solar Flare Disrupted Radio Communications on Earth

Thursday, 07 September 2017 - 7:27PM
Astrophysics
Sun
Thursday, 07 September 2017 - 7:27PM
A Gigantic Solar Flare Disrupted Radio Communications on Earth
NASA
Not to scare you, but if anything were to take out our means of worldwide communication, like, say, an enormous solar flare, we'd all go savage within days, if not hours.

All it would take would be a single big burst of solar energy, and all the communication infrastructure we've built over the past few centuries would go down. From there, the Mr Robot future would be a best-case scenario.

This isn't some abstract possibility, as is evidenced by the fact that a giant solar flare hit the Earth yesterday, resulting in a sizable radio blackout. The solar flare in question was absolutely massive, but still relatively small in terms of what could possibly happen.

There were two separate eruptions, both X class flares, which is the largest class category of solar activity that exists. The first, which hit at 5:10 EDT, was an impressive X2.2 in size, which, just to put it in perspective, was a solar eruption that was well over ten times larger than planet Earth itself.

Even this flare was dwarfed completely by an incredibly huge X9.3 flare that hit the planet at 8:03 EDT. X9s are, under normal conditions, about as big as solar eruptions come - the most recent flare of this size to hit Earth arrived all the way back in 2005, so it's safe to say that this is a particularly spectacular event.



The result was severe interference leading to a complete blackout of many high frequency radio transmissions, while lower frequencies suffered from lesser but still significant interference.

It's not all bad news, though - there could well be a very pretty light show on the way, as solar debris particles arrive over the coming days, creating auroras that won't look entirely unlike the Northern Lights for those who get the chance to see them. It's worth keeping your eyes on the sky just in case the sky is awake in the coming days.

What's particularly interesting is that this event has occurred while the sun is in the most dormant part of its twelve year cycle, where things are usually a little more calm. Apparently, things aren't all that stable at the moment, and considering the aborted eruption that astronomers noticed last week, it's safe to say that there's plenty of activity on the sun's surface at the moment.

A huge solar event all the way back in 1859, known as the Carrington event, saw a sun storm so powerful that it reportedly caused widespread fires as well as frying all electricity cables. The chance of it occurring again is an issue that's pressing enough for the government to have a crisis response plan in place, but how well it'll work is anybody's guess should things go wrong.

But that's not too likely really, is it? When was the last time we got a solar storm big enough to do that kind of damage? 2003, actually. A whopping X23 solar storm sent masses of dangerous radiation out into the solar system, just barely missing our tiny blue rock by enough to thankfully keep us from widespread destruction. Even then, it was enough to put NASA's monitoring equipment out of use.
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