The Sun has been in a bit of a mood lately, spitting out some pretty big flares (including the second largest one of the current magnetic cycle) Be sure to scroll down for the photo of the entire Sun, it will change the way you think about it.
"The sun is waking up from a deep slumber, and in the next few years we expect to see much higher levels of solar activity." Dr. Richard Fisher and other sun-gazing scientists recently discussed the upcoming peak in the 11-year sunspot cycle. Due to the ever-increasing humans' reliance on electrical systems, the storm could leave a multi-billion pound damage bill and "potentially devastating" problems for governments. Constant improvements in satellite designs have assisted in bracing for a solar superstorm, an effort that comes in part by studying the impacts records of activity from past peaks in solar storms. System limits are set based on significant solar storm-triggered events in the past, though the largest magnetic storm on record was before the modern understanding of solar events. The solar storm of 1859, also known as The Carrington Event, when "telegraphs ran on electric air," was experienced around the world. [more inside]
A perfect space storm, which happens about every century, like the one that occurred in 1859, could cause "catastrophic social and economic disruptions", according to a new study by the National Academy of Sciences on behalf of NASA. "Potable water distribution affected within several hours; perishable foods and medications lost in 12-24 hours; immediate or eventual loss of heating/air conditioning, sewage disposal, phone service, transportation, fuel resupply and so on," the report states. Outages could take months to fix, the researchers say. Banks might close, and trade with other countries might halt. The next peak in solar activity is expected around 2012.
Sunspot activity is closely linked to climate. Although it observes an 11 and 22 year cycle, the overall trend of activity shows much longer term variations. The so-called Maunder Minimum (1645-1715) coincided with the Little Ice Age, while the Medieval Maximum coincided with the Medieval Warm Period. Analysis of beryllium isotopes from ice cores in Greenland shows that sunspot activity is currently at a 1000 year high. Could this account, at least in part, for global warming? Recent data from Mars suggests this may be so, while others remain sceptical. Bonus pix, more here.