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Solar Flare Disrupts Technology

2011-08-16 11:00:00

An X-class flare was released by the sun on Tuesday 9 August that may be to blame for the poor reception and slow internet being experienced by telecoms customers.

A solar flare is a huge explosion in the sun’s atmosphere that, if powerful enough, can disrupt technology and telecommunications, including satellites, on a grand scale.

Solar flares are classified on a logarithmic scale, according to Space.com, where each letter represents a 10-fold increase in energy output compared to the one before it. “The smallest solar flares are A-class, followed by B, C, M and then, at the top of the scale, X.”

Each class (letter) also contains a linear scale from 1 – 9, allowing for a finer level of classification.

A statement released by Nasa (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) explains the impact of each class thus: “C-class and smaller flares are too weak to noticeably affect Earth. M-class flares can cause brief radio blackouts at the poles and minor radiation storms that might endanger astronauts.

“Although X is the last letter,” continues Nasa, “there are flares more than 10 times the power of an X1, so X-class flares can go higher than 9. The most powerful flare measured with modern methods was in 2003, during the last solar maximum, and it was so powerful that it overloaded the sensors measuring it. The sensors cut out at X28.”

The Regional Space Warning Centre (RSWC) for Africa warned that more solar flares were expected this week.

Space weather officer Kobus Olckers added that a really bad event could be detected seven to 14 days in advance, sometimes even a month, so the relevant authorities would be afforded ample warning. That there is as yet no severe impact means there is no major concern, he said.

The solar flare last week affected long-distance radio communications, navigation systems and also some satellite-based systems, including TV broadcasting, according to RSWC.

Scientists at Nasa’s Solar Dynamics Observatory said the solar flare last week registered X6.9 – three times larger than the previous largest flare in the current solar cycle – but added that it erupted, luckily, on the opposite side of the sun from Earth.

The current solar cycle is expected to peak in 2013.

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