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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

This week, facts about solar storms. The sun’s 11-year storm cycle is peaking and increases in solar flares could bring events ranging from spectacular northern lights to disruptions in wireless communications.


CURWOOD: The weather's expected to be hot and stormy in the next few weeks, at least on the giant fireball 93 million miles away. The sun's 11-year storm cycle is nearing another peak. And an increase in solar flares is likely to follow. Solar flares are huge explosions, which can spew gases, particles and radiation hundreds of millions of miles into space. The Earth is largely insulated from the effects of all of this by its atmosphere and magnetic field, but not completely. Eleven years ago this month, magnetic interference from solar flares triggered a blackout that left six million North Americans without power. The same solar storms affected more than a thousand satellites. And today, with the boom in wireless communications, we're even more vulnerable to magnetic interference. Cell phones, pagers, and Internet service all could go down. And TV and radio communications could be disrupted. If that happens, though, some people left with nothing to do for a few minutes might be able to wander outside at night and catch a glimpse of a spectacular light show caused by the very same solar flares. The aurora borealis, or northern lights. These illuminated waves of charged solar particle are usually seen only in the polar regions. But during the 1989 solar storms, Floridians and Cubans enjoyed a rare display. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.



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