Solar Flare 2011: Northern Lights Amplified, Communications And Power Grids Could Be Disrupted
A series of massive solar flares that have erupted from the sun in recent days could trigger a dazzling show of the northern lights for stargazers in the northern United States, but they could also have far more serious consequences, including the disruption of power grids and communication systems across the globe.
According to BBC News, waves of charged solar particles will be hitting the Earth's magnetic field over the course of Thursday and Friday, the result of three solar flares happening over the past few days, including the largest to occur since 2006.
While this means the northern lights, Aurora Borealis, may be visible much further south than usual (for example, in the northern United States and UK), the solar flares' impact could have serious technological ramifications, as well.
According to China's official Xinhua News Agency, electromagnetic activity from the solar flares have already jammed shortwave radio communications in the southern part of the country.
A statement from the U.S. National Weather Service says that geomagnetic storms resulting from solar flares like these can last 24 to 48 hours, though some can continue longer. "Ground to air, ship to shore, shortwave broadcast and amateur radio are vulnerable to disruption during geomagnetic storms. Navigation systems like GPS can also be adversely affected," the statement reads.
According to the AFP, in 1973 a magnetic storm from a solar flare caused 6 million people to lose electricity in Canada.