Intense solar storm electrifies the air

A solar flare and subsequent coronal mass ejection have put airlines and power and satellite providers on alert.

Apparently, solar flares – giant explosions on the sun that send energy, light and high speed particles into space – are back, with a vengeance. There are numerous reports that an intense solar storm – which began when a solar flare exploded from the sun – could affect airline flights and satellite operations. You can see the flare in this movie from the Solar Dynamics Observatory in a combination of light wavelengths. The flare created what NASA calls an earth-directed coronal mass ejection (CME), and NASA's Space Weather Services estimated that it has travelled at over 630 miles per second to earth and is causing the solar storm. The storm is creating a wave of charged particles, apparently, and these particles are creating interference.

By the way, you can see video of the CME here, as captured by the Solar Heliospheric Observatory's LASCO C2 camera. This CME was associated with an M3.2 class solar flare.

In this Space.com article, it’s reported that the solar flare unleashed “a plasma wave that may supercharge the northern lights for skywatchers in high latitudes.” And boy did it.

Check out this video on space.com, which captures amazing footage of the aurora borealis in Sweden on January 24th, 2012.

Beautiful, no?

But back to the havoc such storms and flares can wreak…

In this article by msnbc.com staff, its reported that airlines were having to change routes for some of their scheduled flights. A strong CME aimed directly at earth can also cause disruptions to satellites in orbit, as well as power grids and communications infrastructures on the ground. And yes, even data centers.

Back in August 2011, I wrote this blog about how solar explosions could impact earth and, in turn, data centers. I had come across this article, which states that particularly high-powered flares directed at Earth, such flares and associated solar magnetic storms known CMEs can “create long lasting radiation storms that can harm satellites, communications systems, and even ground-based technologies and power grids.”

NASA and others (such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) do monitor for X-class flares and their associated magnetic storms. And another comforting thought is that while the very recent solar flare set off an extremely fast-moving CME, but the ejected cloud of plasma and charged particles was not directly aimed at Earth and hit the planet at an angle instead. In short, this CME’s impact is lessened.

But it is yet another reminder that regular and vigilant disaster recovery planning is necessary.

No one wants to have to make the call to his or her boss, alerting them to the fact that a solar flare and resulting CME has taken down the data center and data has been lost, mainly because there were no robust backup power supplies or automated fail-overs.

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