Solar storm "forecasts" are causing increasing anxiety for all who depend on delicate electronic hardware, the power grids and the Internet. If the most powerful type of solar storm were to hit the Earth, the problems would range from widespread and lengthy power outages to disabled cars. There would be no mobile communication as satellites would be damaged. Every transaction in life that depends on mobile communication would also be disabled, and very few people know how extensive that dependency is.
Solar storms are blasts of particles that erupt into space when the sun's corona has one or more explosions. When satellites were positioned to take pictures of all sides of the sun, it was discovered that multiple explosions, or solar flares, can occur at the same time. The explosions and flares cause the "storms" that blast into space with a chance of hitting the Earth or the Earth's atmosphere.
A major solar storm ejects a cloud of plasma called the coronal mass ejection. The resulting storms are classified as C, M or X in order of the type of danger that ejected particles present. X Class storms contain the most dangerous kind of particles and threaten anything in their path, including orbiting equipment, electrical ground systems, and the atmosphere where geomagnetic storms could occur.
Humans love to predict future events based on past frequencies. Anyone who has done the puzzle or test of correctly identifying the next number in a sequence of numbers will understand why anxieties are now on the rise. Solar flares are believed to occur on an 11 year sun weather cycle. The current cycle that goes from 2008 to 2020 is expected to include maximum storms in 2012 or 2013.
The troublesome solar storms of 1859 and 1989 are being used to predict a major solar storm or a series of storms that could occur in 2011 or 2012. These storms could damage new technologies that include cloud computing, the cell phone infrastructure, the vastly enlarged power grids, and anything else that feeds off of electrical current in new and unprecedented ways.
In 1859, the telegraph was the most widely used electronic communication device. A monster solar storm disrupted the electrical field so severely that papers caught fire, workers experienced shocks, and equipment continued to operate even after the batteries were disconnected.
In 1989, the Quebec, Canada power grid was hit by a solar storm, leaving about 6 million people without power for several hours. That storm also created an aurora that could easily be seen as far south as the Caribbean region.
According to the Christian Science Monitor and many other sources, the common understanding is that solar flares are going through a period of increased activity. The largest flare in 5 years occurred on August 9. This flare was identified as a Class X storm, where the most powerful eruptions occur. The August flare did not send any trouble in the direction of the Earth, but sufficed to remind everyone that a major solar storm could likely impact the Earth and cause mayhem.
As a result, there are predictions of all kinds: that a "perfect storm" of solar flares, a massive single flare, or something apocalyptic could happen. But the storm actually has to hit the earth. Thus, it is possible that any major storms that happen could miss the Earth entirely.
The message is that humans should take a look at their dependencies on power and communication, then make some plans in case satellites, power grids, transportation and communications are knocked out in a big way and for a long period of time.