Many were surprised when the prediction by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of potential major disruptions of power grids, Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites, and internet communications as a result of a solar storm failed to materialize. Most were likely totally unaware of the threat.
Sunspots moving across the surface of the Sun have an 11-year cycle similar to hurricane cycles, and toward the end of the cycle they tend to explode, resulting in a “coronal mass ejection” (CME)—a massive burst of solar particles. The current cycle is nearing its end in 2013 and NASA and others have been watching it carefully. NASA spokesman Alex Young explained that the CME that headed towards Earth earlier this week was pointed in the same direction as the Earth’s magnetic field and so its impact was “soft,” much like an automobile merging into highway traffic.
But it could have been worse. Much worse. Young explained: “If [the fields] are opposite each other…then there’s a much stronger interaction. It allows much more energy to be