NASA predicts more solar flares in 2002

Jan. 24, 2002 — New evidence suggests the sun may be nearing a second peak in its 11-year cycle of activity, known as the solar maximum, NASA said, which could lead to disruption in power grids.

Two years ago, solar flares and explosions launched blasts of hot, electrified gas at the Earth, disrupting satellite communications and power grids.

The event was caused by increased solar activity called a Solar Max, and Solar Maxes tend to be double-peaked cycles. The most recent (and ongoing) Solar Max crested in mid-2000. Sunspot counts were higher than they had been in 10 years, and solar activity was intense.

One remarkable eruption on July 14, 2000 — the so-called “Bastille Day Event” — sparked brilliant auroras as far south as Texas, caused electrical brown-outs, and temporarily disabled some satellites.

After several months of decreased solar activity, scientists have detected a marked increase in sun spots, which could mean more geomagnetic storms are on the way.

The next crest may not cause as many communications and electrical problems, NASA said, because historically, the second crest in a double-crest Solar Max is usually weaker.

NASA’s report is located at http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2002/18jan_solarback.htm.

A report from the National Academies’ Space Studies Board, Readiness for the Upcoming Solar Maximum, (1998) examines how federal agencies can both learn from and protect against the solar maximum. In addition to their geomagnetic effects on Earth, solar storms also affect the near-Earth space environment.

The potential impact of solar storms on construction and operation of the International Space Station is the topic of another report Radiation and the International Space Station: Recommendations to Reduce Risk (2000). Solar storms and other examples of space weather are discussed in the 1997 Web-based tutorial, Space Weather: A Research Perspective.

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