High Alert as Third Solar Storm Hurtles Towards EarthAugust 7, 2011 10:09 AM EDT
Three large solar explosions from the Sun are threatening to cause chaos on earth, with energy from the release potentially shutting down communications systems and power grids across the world.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- a U.S. agency that focuses on the condition of the oceans and atmosphere -- said the magnetic storm that is soon to develop would probably be in the moderate to strong level, prompting warnings it power operators and other industries that could be affected.
The first of the three solar explosions from the sun already passed Thursday and Friday with little impact but forecasts are calling for the second, passing this weekend is thought to be stronger.
But there is a third coming this week.
"We'll have to see what happens over the next few days," said Joseph Kunches, a NOAA scientist. "It could exacerbate the disturbance in the Earth's magnetic field caused by the second (storm) or do nothing at all."
The geomagnetic storm could affect communications and global positioning system (GPS) satellites and might even produce an aurora visible as far south as Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Major disruptions have already been seen in the past.
In 1859, a surge of power from a major geomagnetic storm hit telegraph offices around the world, injuring telegraph operators, and setting papers ablaze. Many telegraph systems still sent and received signals even after operators disconnected batteries.
In 1989, a solar storm took down the power grid in Quebec, Canada, leaving about six million people without power for several hours.
"It was as if the very air was charged with electricity," the NOAA said.
A storm of similar magnitude today could cause $2 trillion in damage, globally, according a 2008 report of the National Research Council. GPS and mobile phones could go down, power grids could become disrupted.
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