Storms in space could have a devastating effect on our society. Solar storms are a result of solar flares and are electromagnetic in nature. They are capable of causing power outages and halting all types of communication, including; electronic pagers; radio and television broadcasts; credit card transactions; military communications; etc.
Solar flares are cyclical, usually over a period of eleven years. There are three basic stages to a solar flare. The first stage is the precursor stage, where the release of magnetic energy is triggered. In the second or impulsive stage, radio waves are emitted. During the third or decay stage, the gradual build up and decay of soft x-rays can be detected.
The frequency of these stages coincides with the sun's eleven-year cycle. When the solar cycle is at a minimum, these flares are smaller and happen less frequently. As the sun approaches the maximum part of its cycle, these increase in intensity and frequency.
Solar flares are explosions that are believed to be caused by the sudden release of energy that is stored in the solar atmosphere. The gases on the outer layer of the sun behave like a pot of boiling liquid, sort of rolling or bubbling back and forth. These are called ionized gases or plasma. They drag the magnetic field of the sun with it, twisting it and strengthening it. In some of theses regions the magnetic field becomes very strong and they break out into the solar atmosphere. These structures act like magnets that break and connect with each other. During this process the structures that act like opposing magnets become unstable and are released into the atmosphere as a solar flare. These gases are believed to be two million degrees Fahrenheit. The particles that escape into interplanetary space are dangerous to all electronic instruments and life sources in space.
The solar wind containing these hot gases races toward the edges of the solar system, and smash in to the magnetosphere. The magnetosphere protects the earth by deflecting most of the solar wind around the planet. Trillions of these charged particles mange to get through and project from the North and South poles. Energy released in this fashion excites atoms of nitrogen and oxygen, which in turn emit pulses of colored light. These formations are called an aurora. The aurora borealis, which are visible in Alaska, are a result of this sort of space storm.
In 1989, during our most recent solar maximum, currents induced by a geomagnetic...