CLAIM: The Sun's magnetic field will reverse in 2012 and a huge solar storm could destroy our world!
FACTS: The Sun goes through a cycle of greater and lesser sunspot activity; the cycles last between 9 and 12 years and they have been recorded for several centuries. The Sun’s magnetic field (or at least its main field) reverses during the cycle’s maximum. The increased solar activity produces flares and/or coronal mass ejections (much more powerful) which emit electromagnetic waves and high-speed charged particles (ionizing radiation) into space and towards Earth. This radiation can disrupt or even permanently disable satellites, power grids, communications and other electronic devices.
Earth has been subjected to many such solar storms in the past: the largest solar storm on record was in 1859 and the only known effect was northern lights observed as far south as the Caribbean.
Another, smaller storm in 1989 disabled part of the Hydro-Quebec power grid leaving millions of people in Quebec without power for over 8 hours. During these hours some satellites lost control although they were rehabilitated later. And last August, during the low solar activity season, Earth was hit by a coronal mass ejection with no serious effects at all. Earth has been showered by fallout from solar storms many, many times in the past… yet here we are.
Today we depend more than ever on electronic devices and these could certainly be damaged by radiation originating in the Sun and the consequences would be serious. However, scientists can predict with certainty neither the intensity of the next solar cycle nor the exact date or time of the next solar storm. Certain forecasts can be made based on the latest data collected from the Sun (which you can follow on http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/SolarCycle/ ) and according to the latest data, it seems this solar cycle (number 24) will not be as intense as some have predicted and it may peak around the year 2013 and not in 2012.
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