Tag Archives: Solar flare

Strongest Solar Storm Since 2003, Flights Rerouted

The strongest solar storm since 2003 started last Monday – a wave of charged particles from an intense solar flare eruption is now raising alerts about airline flights and satellite operations. The solar flares did not make a direct hit on the Earth, but several flights were rerouted last week and scientists are not sure if there will be more to come.

“The chance for re-intensification is still possible because this active spot on the sun that created the initial havoc could go off again.”

Harlan Spence

The storm began when a powerful solar flare erupted on the sun Monday, blasting a stream of charged particles toward our planet. This electromagnetic burst — called a coronal mass ejection, or CME — started hitting Earth somewhere around 10 a.m. ET Tuesday, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

Experts at the center says that solar radiation levels were at their highest point since the Halloween storms of 2003.

Earlier estimates ranked the storm as the strongest since 2005 in terms of solar radiation, but Terry Onsager, a physicist at the Space Weather Prediction Center, said that when the wave of charged particles arrived, “that took it from below the 2005 event to above the 2005 event,” msnbc.com reports.

Bill Murtagh, the center’s program coordinator, said that the outburst was forcing airlines to change routes for some of their scheduled flights. “Most of the major airlines flying polar [routes], or even some non-polar, high-altitude routes, have taken action to mitigate the effect of this storm,” he says.

Airline Alert

Delta Air Lines reported that it altered routes for “a handful” of flights, and that the changes added about 15 minutes to travel times.

Delta spokesman Anthony Black told Reuters that solar activity “can impact your ability to communicate … so basically, the polar routes are being flown further south than normal.”

United Airlines says one flight was diverted on Monday, while American Airlines says it has seen no operational impact from the storm so far but was monitoring the situation.

As powerful as it is, the storm should have no effect on daily life for most people, msnbc.com writes.

No Direct Hit

When a coronal mass ejection hits Earth, it can trigger potentially harmful geomagnetic storms as the charged particles shower down the planet’s magnetic field lines.

This can amp up normal displays of Earth’s auroras (also known as the northern and southern lights), but a strong CME aimed directly at Earth can also cause disruptions to satellites in orbit, as well as power grids and communications infrastructures on the ground.

Monday’s solar flare set off an extremely fast-moving CME, but the ejected cloud of plasma and charged particles was not directly aimed at Earth and hit the planet at an angle instead.

This glancing blow would likely lessen any impacts on Earth,

Earth’s magnetic field served as a shield, and pretty much shielded the radiation so that it doesn’t penetrate that deep,” Yihua Zheng, a lead researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center says.

“It’s like a car collision: head-on or off to the side. A CME is like that too. For this one, if it was a direct hit, Earth would receive a much stronger impact. This one was on an angle — toward higher latitudes and a little off the ecliptic — otherwise it would be a much stronger impact.”

Several NASA satellites, including the Solar Dynamics Observatory, the Solar Heliospheric Observatory and the STEREO spacecraft, observed the massive sun storm.

Data from these spacecraft were combined to help scientists create models to calculate when and where the CME was going to hit Earth.

“A CME is kind of like a space hurricane,” Zheng says. “You have to predict how it will form and evolve. From the models, we can see which spacecraft will be in its path, and what will be impacted.”

At the Space Weather Center, scientists reported that the CME began interacting with Earth’s magnetic field at 9:31 a.m. ET. “We predicted it would arrive at 9:18 a.m., and in reality, it arrived at 9:31 a.m., so ours has a 13-minute error,” Zheng adds. “Usually for this kind of model, the average error is seven hours, so this is the best case.”

Subside or Intensify?

At NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center they say the level of solar radiation should gradually subside — unless the sun unleashes another big coronal mass ejection. “The expectation is that it will weaken and that it will decay over the next couple of days,” NOAA representatives told msnbc.com.

The University of New Hampshire’s astrophysicist Harlan Spence says “the chance for re-intensification is still possible because this active spot on the sun that created the initial havoc could go off again.”

The solar flare associated with this week’s storm was estimated to be an M9-class eruption, which placed it teetering on the edge of being an X-class flare, the most powerful type of solar storm. M-class sun storms are powerful but midrange, while C-class flares are weaker.

The flare erupted from sunspot 1402, a region near the meridian of the sun that has been active for a while now, according to NASA.

The powerful solar storm could be signaling that the sun is waking up after an extended period of relative dormancy.

The sun’s activity waxes and wanes on an 11-year cycle.

The star is currently in the midst of Solar Cycle 24, and activity is expected to continue ramping up toward the solar maximum in 2013.

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Why The Nervousness In Telecoms?

The CDS spread on telecommunications companies widened 5.3% last week, and are now trading 8.2% wide of historical levels, Fitch Research reports. On might wonder what’s bothering the investors about the telecoms? Is the market starting to price in the possible effect on the coming solar storms?

‘There is clearly a persistent negative bias toward telecoms, which may prefigure an increased likelihood of CDS negative implied rating volatility.”

Jonathan Di Giambattista

Renewed unrest among telecoms and sovereigns have driven global credit default swap (CDS) spreads 3% wider, according to Fitch Solutions in its latest Risk and Performance Monitor (RPM). The rise in sovereigns is understandable, but the seemingly systematic shifts in market sentiment for telecoms is somewhat more remarkable.

Telecommunications companies widened 5.3% and are now trading 8.2% wide of historical levels.

“There is clearly a persistent negative bias toward telecoms, which may prefigure an increased likelihood of CDS negative implied rating volatility,” says Author and Managing Director Jonathan Di Giambattista at Fitch Research.

Elsewhere, sovereign spreads widened 4.8%, with all major regions increasing.

The biggest mover was European sovereigns (6.4%) followed by Americas/Oceania (4.2%) and lastly, Asian sovereigns (3.9%). ‘Spreads among all major sovereign regions rose above the 3% market average,’ says Di Giambattista.

This week saw the telecommunication sector spreads increase by 5.35%, the most of any sector in the CDS universe. Asian telecoms widened the most, with spreads increasing 10.6%, followed by Europe with 6.4% and the Americas/Oceania with 1.85%.

“The sector’s ARD rose to 8.2%, which is relatively high, suggesting that the market is showing a persistent negative bias toward telecoms and signaling an increased likelihood of CDS negative implied rating volatility within this sector,” Di Giambattista says.

Based on historical analysis, notch differentials between the CDS IR and agency rating are highly predictive of future rating agency actions.

Eircom, Embarq and Telecom Corporation of New Zealand Limited experienced a one-notch CDS IR downgrade over the past week.

Why The Telecoms?

The widening in sovereigns CDS is pretty easy to understand, especially after the rather hairy report from IMF yesterday, predicting the debt/GDP-ration in Europe to rise by 400% towards 2050, if fiscal policy is not changed.

The telecommunication industry is a cyclical sector, but the moves we are seeing now is bigger than ever.

Could it be that the market is staring to price in potentially effects of the Solar Max storms, predicted to hit the Earth by the end of nest year?

In any case; the telecoms are the sector who is most exposed to harmful effects by the most powerful solar flare eruption in more than 100 years.

Read the full post at The Swapper.

Related by the Econotwist:

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The Sun Is Speaking!

NASA Discover New Form Of Space Weather; Has Power Of Earthquake

NASA: Solar Tsunami To Hit Earth, Tuesday

Siberian Shaman: 2012 Solar Storms Will Trigger Collapse Of The West

The Earth: A Danger Zone

NASA Prepares For Impact – Nasty Space Weather Ahead

When Will God Destroy Our Money?

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Expert: Sun Storm To Hit With Force Of 100 million H-Bombs

As reported earlier here at the Econotwist’s Blog; after 10 years of comparative slumber, the sun is waking up and astronomers are on full alert. This week several US media outlets reported that scientists once again are warning about a massive solar storm building that has the potential to wipe out the entire planet’s power grid – and possible even worse.

“The super storm will hit like a bolt of lightning, causing catastrophic consequences for the world’s health, emergency services and national security unless precautions are taken.”

Richard Fisher


NASA scientists have tried to pinpoint the time of impact, and has in earlier statements set the date to late 2011, or early 2012. NASA have later withdraw their time estimates, saying the storm could be 100 years away – or just 100 days. However, an Australian astronomer says the space community is betting on the sooner scenario, rather than the later.

The massive solar flare that caused spectacular light shows on Earth earlier this month was just a precursor to what is about to unfold.

The question right now is when.

Here is the facts:

NASA is now saying the Solar Max storm could be “100 years away or just 100 days.”
However, an Australian astronomer says the space community is betting on the sooner scenario, rather than the later, the Australian news.com.au reports.

NASA has been watching out for this storm since 2006 and reports from the US this week claim the storms could hit on that most “Hollywood” of disaster dates; 2012.

Similar storms back in 1859 and 1921 caused worldwide chaos, wiping out telegraph wires on a massive scale.

The 2012 storm has the potential to be even more disruptive.

The Most Violent In 100 Years

“The general consensus among general astronomers – and certainly solar astronomers – is that this coming Solar maximum will be the most violent in 100 years,” astronomy lecturer and columnist Dave Reneke says.

Reneke predicts the solar storm to hit the Earth in 2012, or possibly later into 2013.

A bold statement and one taken seriously by those it will affect most, namely airline companies, communications companies and anyone working with modern GPS systems, news.com.au writes.

“They can even trip circuit breakers and knock out orbiting satellites, as has already been done this year,” Dave Reneke says.

Regardless, the point astronomers are making is it doesn’t matter if the next Solar Max isn’t the worst in history, or even as bad as the 1859 storms.

It’s the fact that there hasn’t been one since the mid-80s. Commodore had just launched the Amiga and the only digital storm making the news was Tetris.

No one really knows what effect the 2012-2013 Solar Max will have on today’s digital-reliant society.

In an interview, Dr Richard Fisher, director of NASA’s Heliophysics division, told Mr Reneke the super storm would hit like “a bolt of lightning”, causing catastrophic consequences for the world’s health, emergency services and national security unless precautions are taken.

Trillion Dollar Disaster

US government officials earlier this year took part in a “tabletop exercise” in Boulder, Colorado, to map out what might happen if the Earth was hit with a storm as intense as the 1859 and 1921 storms.

The 1859 storm was of a similar size to that predicted by NASA to hit within the next three years – one of decreased activity, but more powerful eruptions.

NASA says that a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences found that if a similar storm occurred today, it could cause $1 to 2 trillion in damages to society’s high-tech infrastructure and require four to 10 years for complete recovery.

Staff at the Space Weather Prediction Center in Colorado, which hosted the exercise, said with our reliance on satellite technology, such an event could hit the Earth with the magnitude of a global hurricane or earthquake.

The reason for the concern comes as the sun enters a phase known as Solar Cycle 24.

100 Million Hydrogen Bombs

All the alarming news building around the event is being fueled by two things.

The first is a book by disaster expert Lawrence E. Joseph, Guilty of Apocalypse; “The Case Against 2012,” in which he claims the hurricane Katrina for the Earth may cause unprecedented planet-wide upheaval.

The second is a theory that claims sunspots travel through the sun on a conveyor belt similar to the Great Ocean Conveyor Belt which controls weather on Earth.

The belt carries magnetic fields through the sun. When they hit the surface, they explode as sunspots. Weakened, they then travel back through the sun’s core to recharge.

It all happens on a rough 40-50-year cycle, according to solar physicist David Hathaway of the National Space Science and Technology Center in the US.

He says when the belt speeds up, lots of magnetic fields are collected, which points to more intense future activity.

“The belt was turning fast in 1986-1996,” Professor Hathaway says.

“Old magnetic fields swept up then should reappear as big sunspots in 2010-2011.”

Most experts agree, although those who put the date of Solar Max in 2012 are getting the most press.

They claim satellites will be aged by 50 years, rendering GPS even more useless than ever, and the blast will have the equivalent energy of 100 million hydrogen bombs.

“We know it is coming but we don’t know how bad it is going to be,” Dr Fisher told Mr Reneke in the recent issue of Australasian Science.

“Systems will just not work. The flares change the magnetic field on the Earth and it’s rapid, just like a lightning bolt. That’s the solar effect,” Fisher says.

Related by the Econotwist:

NASA Prepares For Impact – Nasty Space Weather Ahead

NASA: Solar Tsunami To Hit Earth, Tuesday

Siberian Shaman: 2012 Solar Storms Will Trigger Collapse Of The West

When Will God Destroy Our Money?

The Sun Is Speaking!

NASA Discover New Form Of Space Weather; Has Power Of Earthquake

The Earth: A Danger Zone

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