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Massive Solar Storm Could Disrupt Your Electronics, Travel

Experts: Earth's Magnetic Field Can Only Do So Much To Stop The Particles
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Solar Flare - Mar 6, 2012 (credit: NASA/SDO/AIA)

Solar Flare – Mar 6, 2012 (credit: NASA/SDO/AIA)

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EAST MEADOW, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – Earth is getting bombarded by solar flares right now. Radioactive particles from this week’s solar activity have reached our planet — and a lot of people are worried about the fallout.

The big fear is that the flares will wreak havoc on electronics — from our smartphones to GPS systems to even air travel.

Are those fears justified, or overblown?

EXTRA: To see stunning images of the sun, please check out this app for your iPhone and iPad and this website.

As CBS 2’s Lou Young observed Thursday, a local sky-watcher placed a special filter on a telescope for a live look at the sun. Lately it has given us a lot to look at.

That solar flare is sending electromagnetic fallout our way capable of disrupting our wired world.

“It’s not going to affect your computer. It’s not going to affect your watch. That’s all fine. Basically anything which is very large, like a power grid,” said Mark Keller of Andrus Planetarium.

They’re particles that can speed up or slow electricity, causing brownouts or overloads.

WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell On The Story

Because new technology has flourished, scientists could discover that some new systems are also at risk, said Jeffrey Hughes, director of the Center for Integrated Space Weather Modeling at Boston University.

“The charged particles can effect satellites. In the past, in fact, they have damaged or destroyed, electrically destroyed spacecrafts,” Jeffrey Newmark, a scientist working in solar and heliospheric physics at NASA, told WCBS 880 reporter Peter Haskell.

The actual flare that caused this occurred on the sun about 6 a.m. Tuesday and it’s taken this long for the particles to get here. Right now they’re being absorbed by the Earth’s magnetic field, but at some point in the next 24 hours the field will become saturated and those particles will begin spilling down to the surface.

The folks at the Hudson River Museum’s Andrus Planetarium in Yonkers told Young we’re fairly close to where the particles will descend.

“A lot of it is going to be funneled down to the poles of the Earth’s magnetic field, one of which is right here in northern Canada,” Keller said.

A former air traffic controller at John F. Kennedy International Airport said transoceanic flights will likely be a bit longer for safety’s sake.

“They would tend to ask for more southern routes to stay away from the polar routes because of the possibility of disruption from the electromagnetic radiation from the flares,” Sue Rose said.

If were lucky, the only evidence of the event could be a shimmer up above — the northern lights last seen in our area back in 1988.

Solar flares have caused big blackouts before, but electric grids have been upgraded since then. Experts said any problems with your GPS or cell phone over the next few days is probably something you won’t have the sun to blame.

Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below …

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