A solar flare that erupted from the sun Tuesday may disrupt radio and satellite transmissions and put on a colorful display of aurora borealis for those in northern latitudes.
A massive solar flare — or as Alaska's Geophysial Institute termed it, an "event on the Sun" on June 7 — would deliver only a "glancing blow" to the Earth's vulnerable magnetic field and likely go unnoticed by most people on Earth, NASA said.
NASA is calling Tuesday's flare "medium-sized" and the biggest seen in the last five years, PC World reports. However:
It's nothing compared to something called the "Carrington Event" in 1859, a huge solar flare that set telegraph machines on fire and produced an auroral glow in many parts of the world bright enough to read by. Even when telegraph operators disconnected their batteries, "aurora-induced electric currents in the wires still allowed messages to be transmitted," according to a NASA historical account.
And, reports the New York Times:
NASA spacecraft detected a much larger eruption last weekend on the backside of the sun headed away from Earth, generating a much faster-moving cloud. "If this event was on a collision course with the U.S., we would have had a major space weather event," Pulkkinen said. "In this regard, we got lucky."
That might not be the case two years from now, "when a peak in solar activity could cause trillions of dollars in damage to high-tech our infrastructure," according to PC World.
The technology journal referred to the cyclical nature of solar activity, adding that the current cycle was expected to peak in 2013, when another "Carrington Event" was most likely to occur.
Only problem is that if such an event happened today, it would cause much, much more damage than it did in the 19th century.
"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," Richard Fisher, head of NASA's Heliophysics Division, reportedly said last year. "At the same time, our technological society has developed an unprecedented sensitivity to solar storms."