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X-Class Solar Flare Coming Friday 145

First time accepted submitter kit_triforce writes Satellites have just detected a powerful X1.6-class solar flare. The source was active sunspot AR2158, which is directly facing Earth. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the extreme ultraviolet flash. Ionizing radiation from the flare could cause HF radio blackouts and other communications disturbances, especially on the day-lit side of Earth. In the next few hours, when coronagraph data from SOHO and STEREO become available, we will see if a coronal mass ejection (CME) emerges from the blast site. If so, the cloud would likely be aimed directly at Earth and could reach our planet in 2 to 3 days.
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X-Class Solar Flare Coming Friday

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  • Because that would be a pretty bad scenario for us...

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Bad enough as it is. If there is a CME, we could be looking at cascading power failures and riots that will make Ferguson MO look like Mr Rogers Neighborhood. We have no defense against something like this because securing the grid would slightly impact profits. This could be a very good time to own stock in companies like GE or Siemens.
      • by Jarik C-Bol ( 894741 ) on Wednesday September 10, 2014 @11:06PM (#47877359)
        Of course, if you read the article, it says that the effects will be at worst serious radio interference, some high voltage alarms on sensitive equipment that has monitors, and some transformer damage if the storm lasts long enough, but mainly in the higher latitudes. Not exactly world ending.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        We have no defense against something like this because securing the grid would slightly impact profits

        We do have a defense: circuit breakers. They are installed in a lot of places on the electrical grid, as there are many other kinds of faults that require their use, and not having them would have already impacted the bottom line. The question is how well they are maintained. But in situations like the solar storm in 1989, it worked, and once the storm was gone, they reset the breakers essentially and the power comes back.

        • by Ginger Unicorn ( 952287 ) on Thursday September 11, 2014 @06:35AM (#47878743)
          There's a recent Skeptic's Guide to the Universe podcast where Phil Plait explained exactly what impact a big CME would have on the grid, and I think he said that there are some very large transformers that would be destroyed and would take 5 to 10 years to replace due to there being nowhere tooled up to replace them. I think he said this would mean large chunks of the grid without power for that timespan.
          • he said that there are some very large transformers that would be destroyed and would take 5 to 10 years to replace due to there being nowhere tooled up to replace them.

            So the grid isn't being expanded anywhere in the world? Seems suspect.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 11, 2014 @01:20PM (#47882133)

            I think he said that there are some very large transformers that would be destroyed and would take 5 to 10 years to replace due to there being nowhere tooled up to replace them.

            This has been repeated a lot, but I think is a bit over-inflated as a risk. Nothing against Phil Plait, as a quite a few other knowledgeable people have also repeated it.

            The problem with large transformers connected to large power grids or long transmission lines, is that a geomagnetic storm can induce a current that is effectively DC compared to the 50/60 Hz of the power distribution network. Transformer cores can only handle so much magnetic field, and hence only so much current, before they begin to saturate, where each additional bit of current creates less and less magnetic field within the core, and hence the core resists increasing current less. In other words, as it saturates, the impedance goes down, and the transformer will pull a lot more current just like switching from a large valued resistor to a small valued one pulls more current. Too much current, and it overheats and can damage (potentially catastrophically if windings short out).

            There are two ways to catch this. The first is to watch for DC currents going into the transformer, and either trip a breaker or reduce usage of that line if the DC current goes too far out of spec. A lot of power equipment won't see DC currents being designed for the AC grid. But these days, more and more places do check for DC current because of problems from such storms. If the equipment isn't monitored for DC current though, the increasing AC current from the transformer saturating can still trip vanilla AC circuit breakers (with a few caveats).

            So it is not like a storm just will blow out all transformers connected to the power grid. It comes down to whether or not the protection equipment is installed and works as designed. If the protection equipment interrupt the circuit, or if the transformer was so marginal that the protection equipment doesn't kick in soon enough, then it could be damaged. There certainly have been cases of protection equipment programmed with the wrong limits before, for example. But in the end, it is just extra stress on the system, not some massive failure blowing out everything without hope.

          • Lucky for us, astrophysicists don't run or operate the grid. 10 years? Are you kidding me? How the hell is that credible? If that was true then it would have taken 1000 years to build the current grid. Only it didn't and most of the grid was built very very recently (Hint we use more power every year).
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by citizenr ( 871508 )

        Are you rich or retarded? Because those are the two groups of people that immediately link natural disasters with riots.

    • Because that would be a pretty bad scenario for us...

      Sweet Jag, though.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 10, 2014 @11:13PM (#47877393)

      I think XKCD class would be even worse! Our communication equipment would fail in hilarious ways.

  • If so, the cloud would likely be aimed directly at Earth and could reach our planet in 2 to 3 days.

    "Duck!"

    • by jrumney ( 197329 )
      I've seen this movie. We need to go to a place with lots of magnetic stones. That's where the alien spacecraft come to save a select few to revive our species on another planet. The catch is, they only want children for their zoo.
  • Didn't RTFA, did they mention which side of our fine planet will be facing the worst of it? How long is the stream going to pummel us?
  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Wednesday September 10, 2014 @10:18PM (#47877173)
    Times like this, I sympathize with the sysadmin of the spaceweather.com website. I hope she/he had nothing planned for this evening.....
    • I've never met a sysadmin that did have something to do most of the time. They'd probably just waste their free time doing something silly like playing tabletop games.
      • ... or having dinner with their family.....
      • I've never met a sysadmin that did have something to do most of the time. They'd probably just waste their free time doing something silly like playing tabletop games.

        Or, PlanetSide 2 [planetside2.com].

        As for the grandparent post, it appears [spaceweather.com] to be holding up well. To everybody else, what an excellent time to check on the status of your routine system backups, disaster recovery plans and other such things that might come into play if/when this baby hits. Are you ready to lose power and/or telco?

      • I've never met a sysadmin that did have something to do most of the time. They'd probably just waste their free time doing something silly like playing tabletop games.

        Not if they're doing their jobs right anyway.

    • Re:spaceweather.com (Score:5, Informative)

      by oneiros27 ( 46144 ) on Thursday September 11, 2014 @12:14AM (#47877613) Homepage

      Bah ... it's mostly static content. The sites that get hammered on these sorts of things are:

      ... etc. The various 'latest images' pages for SDO, SOHO, STEREO, etc. won't be as interesting as the imagers that are that tight in have already seen the good stuff (for that flare; there might be more from that same active region; you can track that at Solar Monitor [solarmonitor.org] or iSolSearch [lmsal.com])... there *might* be something from this CME still to come in the HI1 and HI2 instruments from STEREO [nasa.gov], though.

      You might also want to check The Sun Today [thesuntoday.org], which tends to have good explanations of what's happened, and they have a few movies for this event [thesuntoday.org].

      (disclaimer : I work at the Solar Data Analysis Center, and have worked on some of the sites that I've mentioned, and know the sysadmins for all but one of 'em)

      • by Gazzonyx ( 982402 ) <[scott.lovenberg] [at] [gmail.com]> on Thursday September 11, 2014 @04:15AM (#47878371)
        So... you just DDOSed your friends. You sure you're not a sysadmin yourself?
        • Yep ... but we get to argue for why we need new hardware when they can't keep up with the load. And many of 'em are intended for 'public outreach', so they justify their continued funding by how many people look at their website, not just how much data they serve, or how many people cite their systems in peer-reviewed papers. (ISWA and iSolSearch may be exceptions to this)

          There have been other times that were much worse, such as when a slashdot 'editor' (I use that term loosely) decided to add a comment f

      • You might also want to check The Sun Today

        I went out and stared at it for as long as I could, but I don't feel Any More Educated.

  • or whatever is the current equivalent.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I realize it's just the title, but please...why can't we get it right? This isn't Stargate SG-1, where we have knowledge of solar flares to come, or the advanced technology to predict them. And this isn't a major news outlet, where they have no clue. So let's not PREDICT SOLAR FLARES. Let's grow up.

    I think perhaps this post should be titled, "Effects of X-Class Solar Flare Coming Friday".

    Make it so.

    • It's more like, "Discovery, this is Houston, you have twenty minutes to get in your flare shelter and spin down HAL's hard drive. Out."
  • Whenever a user asks me how their file got corrupted, I usually mention solar flares as a _mostly_ joking answer. Soooo... should I proactively start a background verify on my SAN over the weekend?
  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Wednesday September 10, 2014 @11:01PM (#47877343)

    Bad combo - giant solar flare just as the internet itself explodes with iPhone 6 pre-orders.

    You may as well just crawl in a cave that day and see what is left of society when you come out. Hint; take some Twinkies as our soon-to-be cockroach overlords love them.

  • Wooo! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by funwithBSD ( 245349 ) on Wednesday September 10, 2014 @11:13PM (#47877395)

    HAM bands in the VHF range will be opening up! I am going to rig for 10m and 15 and see what happens.

    I might a QSO from Europe with a little luck.

  • Plenty of time to make a tinfoil hat.

  • A Hallmark greeting card with a heart-shaped solar flare overlaying an "X" [s-nbcnews.com] obviously meaning "love and kisses". It reads: "To Earth, with love. -- Sun"

    • We should be able to get a reading of the shield up or down. How can Earth be jamming unless they know we're...coming?
  • by JohnVanVliet ( 945577 ) on Wednesday September 10, 2014 @11:41PM (#47877501) Homepage

    Seeing as it is only a x 1.6
    As far as BIG things go this is a bit tiny

    so PREPARE for the WORST
    1 to 2 days no electricity
    BUT
    expect the BEST
    pretty lights in the sky

  • by oneiros27 ( 46144 ) on Wednesday September 10, 2014 @11:47PM (#47877531) Homepage

    Flares are bursts of energy, so they travel at the speed of light -- there's no real early warning for 'em, as by the time you see it, it's here. (there might be a slight warning before you hit the peak of the flare, but we're talking seconds, not days).

    The CME is what's coming on Friday ... Coronal *Mass* Ejection ... ie, it's more than just an electro-magnetic pulse ... it actually has mass associated with it.

    You might also get some SEP (solar energetic particles) before the main sort of 'cloud' from the CME arrives -- those can be worse for the people in space, as they arrive minutes to hours after the flare, and they'll just go through things in space (eg, spacecraft, space stations, etc.).

    disclaimer : I'm not a solar physicist, but I'm a programmer/sysadmin supporting the Solar Data Analysis Center at GSFC.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Thursday September 11, 2014 @02:07AM (#47878005) Journal

      it's more than just an electro-magnetic pulse ... it actually has mass associated with it.

      So, to put it in layman's terms, the Sun farted at us.

    • Flares are bursts of energy, so they travel at the speed of light -- there's no real early warning for 'em, as by the time you see it, it's here. (there might be a slight warning before you hit the peak of the flare, but we're talking seconds, not days).

      The CME is what's coming on Friday ... Coronal *Mass* Ejection ... ie, it's more than just an electro-magnetic pulse ... it actually has mass associated with it.

      You might also get some SEP (solar energetic particles) before the main sort of 'cloud' from the CME arrives -- those can be worse for the people in space, as they arrive minutes to hours after the flare, and they'll just go through things in space (eg, spacecraft, space stations, etc.).

      disclaimer : I'm not a solar physicist, but I'm a programmer/sysadmin supporting the Solar Data Analysis Center at GSFC.

      If the flare was pretty much a direct hit, are we still going to be in the way if it takes 2-3 days for the CME particles to reach us? With a radial velocity of 30 km/s, the Earth will have moved several million kilometers away from the point where the flare struck. I know the Sun rotates in the same direction (~24 day period) as the Earth orbits (~365 day period), though, so maybe that imparts just the right amount of radial velocity.

    • CME also drags a big bubble of magnetic field with it. That is typically what does a lot of the "interacting".
  • In the case of a bad solar storm, recovery may be delayed by the need to manufacture replacement transformers. http://www.reuters.com/article... [reuters.com]
  • The nuclear industry developed a flex plan in response to Fukushima, but some of it has extra equipment available to handle a single issue arising among one of many reactors. http://safetyfirst.nei.org/ind... [nei.org] In a wide scale grid failure, does that really help is several emergency generators fail a few weeks into aftermath?
  • My biggest interest (once we've determined taht it's not the end of life/technology as we know it) is to determine if we're in for lower latitude Aurora Borealis.

    Back when I lived in MA, there was one particularly big CME maybe around 2004-ish (could be +- 1 year) and I remember how beautify the sky was... I actually gasped audibly when I first noticed it.

    I'm likely way too far South to see them this time, but I do wonder if some parts of the US won't get a pretty show.

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