On Valentines' Day 2011, the sun erupted with the largest solar flare seen in four years—big enough to interfere with radio communications and GPS signals for airplanes on long-distance flights.
As solar storms go, the Valentine's Day flare was actually modest. But the burst of activity is only the start of the upcoming solar maximum, due to peak in the year 2013.
The biggest solar storm in history hit us in the year 1859, during a solar maximum about the same size as the one we're entering, according to NASA. It is dubbed the Carrington Event, after British astronomer Richard Carrington, who witnessed the megaflare and was the first to realize the link between activity on the sun and geomagnetic disturbances on Earth.
In fact we are so dependent on technology today that even an innocent-looking heat wave could kill us, if we are left without our technological peers. The biggest consequence would be the disruptions to global positioning systems (GPS), which have become ubiquitous in cell phones, airplanes, and automobiles. Well I am in fact planning to get myself a GPS by the end of May as my graduation gift-now a delay would be warmly welcomed.
The "Halloween storms" of 2003, for instance, interfered with satellite communications, produced a brief power outage in Sweden, and lighted up the skies with ghostly auroras as far south as Florida and Texas.
Wait a minute. Am I contradicting myself here? I have always been critical on the topic of 2012 and now I'm contradicting what I've blogged merely 8 hours ago about rubbishing the prospect of 2012. Well, not exactly. The points highlighted above clearly render the hazard posed by solar storm, but as I read on, National Geographic also gave some points that downplay the effect of solar storm in our lives.
Moreover, we could build power grids to be less vulnerable to solar disruptions.
Even now, the most damaging emissions from big storms travel slowly enough to be detected by sun-watching satellites well before the particles strike Earth. That gives us around 20 hours to determine what actions we need to take.
So, we have nothing to worry about really, well, until the next big solar storm strikes.