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More History Making Sun Storms Ahead

Paraphrased by:
Steve Waldrop
November 18, 2003

Denver-- Shining brightly for over 4 billion years and rising unfailingly every morning, even astronomers can take the sun for granted. Among the 100 billion stars in the Milky Way, the Sun is rather lackluster.

However, the sun certainly is demanding everyone's attention now, three weeks into what could be the most dramatic and unexpected cycle of eruptions ever observed from its seething, bubbling surface.

There have been at least six salvos since October 19 and the fireworks could reach new heights by Thanksgiving, causing disruptions for the nation's busiest air travel holiday

"There's been nothing quite like this," said Bill Murtagh, a space weather forecaster for the National Oceanic and Space Administration in Boulder, Colorado. "Another big blow is not what anyone needs."

The biggest solar storm to affect Earth in the current cycle was on October 28. Little damage occurred, largely because it was forecast, and electric utilities and satellite companies took precautions.

Even with precautions taken it caused a blackout in Sweden, damaged two Japanese satellites and upset radio communications and navigation systems for jets and ships. Airlines in the northern latitudes flew lower to protect passengers from extra doses of radiation. Scientists worry that a new round of eruptions could do more of the same or worse.

Each solar burst hurls into space huge clouds of super heated, charged particle clouds that are 13 times the size of Earth. One explosion on November 4, ranks as the most powerful solar flare to be recorded by orbiting instruments- although it was pointed away from Earth.

"This period will go into the history books as one of the most dramatic," said Paal Brekke, deputy project scientist for SOHO, a joint U.S.-European observatory between Earth and the sun.

What will the sun do next? Astronomers can only watch and wait.

The sun is not solid, but a dense and torrid ball of gas. It rotates in sections at different latitudes as if the layers of a cake were turning at different speeds, with the equator's layer moving faster than the poles.

The sun's luminosity can change slightly during sunspot cycles, possibly affecting Earth's climate sand, some argue, contributing to global warning. If true, those details will take years to work out.