You’ve Got a Flare for Science

January 23, 2012 · 0 comments

Last night while you were out partying on Bourbon Street, the Sun was at work. According to NOAA, our home star produced an R2 (Moderate) radio blackout x-ray burst–call it a flare–accompanied by potentially the fastest Earth-directed Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) of the current solar cycle.

The flare was observed at 11 p.m. EST and radiation reached us an hour later. As of 6 a.m. local New Orleans time, radiation was already considered “strong” (S3). Initial model guidance showed the CME arriving around 9:00 am EST on Tuesday. NOAA space weather forecasters say this will cause the strongest solar radiation storm since December 2006, with potential for electrical grid disruption.

What impacts should you expect? (Hopefully, no more wireless outages in the Convention Center here in New Orleans!)

Seriously though, the best thing to do for your edification is to get over to the Space Weather Symposium this afternoon at the AMS Annual Meeting. Today’s session (4 p.m.-5:45 p.m., Room 252/3 include talks on impacts of space weather on aviation, networking, navigation, electricity transmission and more. And given our focus on futurism, consider this space weather question raised by presenter Karen Shelton-Mur (of the FAA):

Once low-Earth orbit (LEO) capabilities are demonstrated by commercial companies, it is anticipated that LEO flights will be expanded to include space flight participants (private citizens). The expansion of commercial space activities into LEO will expose more humans to the harsh space environment than ever before. Without proper authority and monitoring of on-orbit activities, how will the FAA ensure safety of the crew, its space flight participants, and safety critical systems on board the spacecraft?

No question, this stuff is “out there” and cool and very sophisticated application of the forward edges of atmospheric science. Today’s solar flare is a reminder that the way we use technology is pushing this community in new directions all the time.