UPDATE: This article has now been updated with additional information from NASA including images and video!
The Sun's odd behavior has been mentioned on many occasions recently. As we all await the Solar Cycle 24, scientists keep a close eye on the Sun.
Now astronomers have discovered huge dark strip on the surface of the Sun. It is estimated this filament is about 800,000 km in length!
Astrophysicists presume dark spots on the Sun are areas where the temperature is lower. However what we see here is not a normal sunspot and it is growing at
an alarming rate.
According to researchers the region has increased to almost one million kilometers in just three days.
Click on image to enlarge
Image credit: NASA/SDO
This image (above) from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) shows a very long, whip-like solar filament extending over half a million miles
in a long arc above the sun’s surface.
Filaments are cooler clouds of solar material that are tethered above the sun’s surface by unstable magnetic forces.
The image and video (below), which covers August 6 to 8, 2012 show the filament as a darker strand that has been in view for several days.
Towards the end of the video part of the filament seems to break away, but its basic length and shape seem to have remained mostly intact.
NASA forecasts that in September 2012, there will be outbreaks of unprecedented
power. We can expect huge solar flares that can have serious effect world-wide.
Commenting on the study of the dangers of "space weather",
astrophysicist Daniel Baker claimed that the effects will be comparable to a nuclear war or the fall of a giant asteroid.
However, in terms of power grids and satellites, it's not the flares that the experts have to worry about, but the CMEs.
Solar storms can disrupt communication, and navigational equipment, damage satellites, and even cause blackouts by damaging power plants and electrical
If a big enough concentration of CMEs were to land on farm crops or in the drinking water, not only would
water filters and
purification systems go into overdrive to counteract their negative effects but a possible outbreak of a more serious global health risk could spread.
They can also bring additional radiation around the north and south poles; and this, in turn forces airlines to reroute their flights.
According to a report published by NERC, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, or NERC, which oversees North America's power grid we can
feel the effects for several years to come.
"Historically large storms have a potential to cause power grid blackouts and transformer damage of unprecedented proportions, long-term blackouts and
lengthy restoration times, and chronic shortages for multiple years are possible," the report said.
Click on image to enlarge
Terrible stripe on the Sun This filament happened on Aug. 5th, 2012.
11 images were put together to create this huge filamament on the Sun.
Photo Credits: Leonard E. Mercer, amateur astronomer from Malta, who
contributes with many astrophotos.
Richard Andres, an energy and environmental security expert at the military's National Defense University (NDU), is helping to coordinate an interagency group
to deal with the problem. The failure of the national power grid could be disastrous, he said.
In a worst-case scenario, commerce would almost instantly cease, he said, noting he was speaking for himself and not the U.S. government.
Water and fuel, which depend on electric pumps, would stop flowing in most cities within hours, modern communications would end and mechanized
transport would stall.
Backup generators for hospitals, the military, and other critical facilities would be vulnerable if they depended on diesel or natural gas,
which also rely on pipelines for resupply.
The report said more than 130 million people in the United States could be affected.
Andres said the death toll could run into the millions in the worst-case scenario.
How many people will suffer world-wide? We can only make guesses about the number of deaths.
There are leaks in Earth's magnetic field. Earth's magnetic field which acts as our protective shield in space has a hole in it.
That could be a problem because a weakened field could leave Earth vulnerable to solar storms.
Unfortunately it is impossible to determine in advance in how serious danger Earth will be.
Image credit: SPL
"It's a lot like asking how many trees would fall in the next hurricane," a government expert said. "We don't know that, but we do know that there will be a
hurricane. When we have another space weather superstorm, there will be an effect on the grid. We're trying to understand now what that effect is going to be."
We should hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst.
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