Solar Flares Likely Knocked Military Satellites Offline

Solar storms earlier this month may have caused military satellites to reboot

Jason Koebler
U.S. News & World Report
March 23, 2012

Despite being made to withstand radiation emitted from solar flares, a storm caused by the sun earlier this month may have temporarily knocked American military satellites offline, according to General William Shelton, head of the Air Force’s Space Command.

The energy particles associated with two solar storms March 9 and 10 may have caused what are called “single event upsets” on military satellites. “The timing is such that we say this was likely due to [solar radiation],” Shelton told reporters at a Defense Writers Group breakfast Thursday. Although it’s impossible to tell exactly what caused the events–essentially a temporary reboot of satellite instrumentation software–solar storms are known to wreak havoc on satellites.

“We’re very concerned about solar activity,” he said. Military satellites are “hardened [to withstand radiation], but maybe in some cases, not every part is as hard as we would like it to be.”

That’s because building a satellite to withstand solar storms is costly, which is why NASA says commercial satellites are often most vulnerable. Yihua Zheng, head of NASA’s Space Weather Services at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., says each satellite is built to withstand a different level of radiation, and that there’s a “cost-benefit analysis” to radiation hardening during a satellite’s development. Most mission-critical military satellites are built to sustain short bursts of solar radiation. Satellites “can reset and come back online.” But if the solar storm is lengthy, the damage could be severe enough that the satellite’s software won’t be able to reboot.

“Most of the satellites are built for this,” she says. “They should be OK.”

In recent years, the military has become more reliant on satellites operated by the Air Force’s Space Command, Shelton said. “Space capability is integral to everything [the military does],” he said, “from GPS targeting and communications to incoming missile warnings for our troops overseas.”

Shelton said the outages following this month’s solar storms didn’t affect any missions. “There were dire predictions preceding [these flares],” he said. “We didn’t see it to that degree.”

Zheng says NASA alerts the Air Force whenever a solar flare is incoming, and they have about 20 minutes of advance notice to de-activate sensitive instruments onboard satellites.

“They can turn sensitive instruments off as a preventative measure,” she says. “They can go into a ‘safe mode.’ Once the storm dies down, they can turn it back on.” Shelton says that NASA’s close relationship with the Air Force space command gives them good “advance notice of when a solar storm is headed our way.”

NASA says the recent wave of solar storms is only likely to intensify through the end of 2012, but Shelton believes the military’s satellites will be able to withstand any future storms.

“I don’t believe that anything–short of something truly catastrophic, that would be catastrophic to those of us on Earth as well, I don’t believe there’s a scenario where we’d wholesale lose spacecraft,” Shelton said.

Solar Flares Likely Knocked Military Satellites Offline: Solar storms earlier this month may have caused military satellites to reboot – chicagotribune.com.

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Solar storm causes radio blackout in Africa and Asia

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Last Updated: 7:49 AM, March 9, 2012
Posted: 7:44 AM, March 9, 2012

A solar storm shook the Earth’s magnetic field early Friday, but scientists said they had no reports of any problems with electrical systems.

After reports Thursday of the storm fizzling out, a surge of activity prompted space weather forecasters to issue alerts about changes in the magnetic field.

“We really haven’t had any reports from power system operators yet,” Rob Steenburgh, a space weather forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo., said early Friday. “But sometimes they don’t come in until after the storm.”

He said the storm reached a moderate level late Thursday, before going to a strong level early Friday. For most of Thursday, it was rated as minor.

Scientists say such storms don’t pose a threat to people, just technology.

The space weather center’s website says a storm rated as strong could force corrections to voltage systems and trigger false alarms on some protection devices, as well as increase drag on satellites and affect their orientation.

The forecasters weren’t aware of any significant impact to electrical or technological systems, but said there was a two-hour blackout of high frequency radio communications — affecting mainly ham radio operations — stretching from eastern Africa to eastern Australia.

Steenburgh also said that there was another solar flare late Thursday, similar to the one a few days ago that set off the current storm.

“Right now we’re still analyzing when it will arrive” and how strong it could be, he said.

The space weather center had reports of Northern Lights across Canada and dipping into the northern tier of U.S. states, Steenburgh said.

While some experts thought the threat from the solar storm passed by earlier Thursday, the space weather center maintained the storm’s effects could continue through Friday morning.

The current storm, which started with a solar flare Tuesday evening, caused a stir Wednesday because forecasts were for a strong storm with the potential to knock electrical grids offline, mess with GPS and harm satellites. It even forced airlines to reroute a few flights on Thursday.

It was never seen as a threat to people, just technology, and teased skywatchers with the prospect of colorful Northern Lights dipping further south.

But when the storm finally arrived around 6 a.m. EST Thursday, after traveling at 2.7 million mph, it was more a magnetic breeze than a gale. The power stayed on. So did GPS and satellites. And the promise of auroras seemed to be more of a mirage.

Scientists initially figured the storm would be the worst since 2006, but now seems only as bad as ones a few months ago, said Joe Kunches, a scientist at the NOAA center. The strongest storm in recorded history was probably in 1859, he said.

“It’s not a terribly strong event. It’s a very interesting event,” Kunches said.

Forecasters can predict the speed a solar storm travels and its strength, but the north-south orientation is the wild card. This time it was a northern orientation, which is “pretty benign,” Kunches said. Southern would have caused the most damaging technological disruption and biggest auroras.

On Thursday, North American utilities didn’t report any problems, said Kimberly Mielcarek, spokeswoman for the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, a consortium of electricity grid operators. Her office didn’t respond to a phone call early Friday.

Astronomers say the sun has been relatively quiet for some time. And this storm, forecast to be strong and ending up minor, still may seem fiercer because Earth has been lulled by several years of weak solar activity.

The storm is part of the sun’s normal 11-year cycle, which is supposed to reach a peak next year. Storms as large as the latest one will probably happen several more times as the cycle ramps up to that peak, scientists said.

The region of the sun that erupted can still send more blasts our way, Kunches said. Another set of active sunspots is ready to aim at Earth.

“This is a big sun spot group, particularly nasty,” NASA’s Hathaway said. “Things are really twisted up and mixed up. It keeps flaring.”

Storms like this start with sun spots. First, there’s an initial solar flare of subatomic particles that resembles a filament coming out of the sun. That part usually reaches Earth only minutes after the initial burst, bringing radio and radiation disturbances. Next is the coronal mass ejection, which looks like a growing bubble and takes a couple days to reach Earth.

Solar storms have three ways they can disrupt technology on Earth: with magnetic, radio and radiation emissions. In 1989, a strong solar storm knocked out the power grid in Quebec, causing 6 million people to lose power.

For North America, the good part of a solar storm — the one that creates more noticeable auroras or Northern Lights — was likely to peak Thursday evening. Auroras were likely to dip only as far south as the northern edges of the United States, Kunches said, but a full moon would make them harder to see.

Solar storms can bring additional radiation around the north and south poles — a risk that sometimes forces airlines to reroute flights. On Thursday, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines sent 11 flights to Asia on a more southern route rather than their more common path over the Arctic. Three American Airlines flights flew lower than normal over the northernmost parts of their routes to Japan and China.

Solar storm causes radio blackout in Africa and Asia – NYPOST.com.

STRANGE SOUNDS IN SKY EXPLAINED BY SCIENTIST

SATURDAY, 28 JANUARY 2012 09:17

Mr. Khalilov, what is the nature of the unusual very low-pitched sounds reported by a great number of people in different parts of the planet since the summer of 2011?

Many call them “The Sound of the Apocalypse”. Information about that comes from all over the world: US, UK, Costa Rica, Russia, Czech Republic, Australia, etc.

We have analyzed records of these sounds and found that most of their spectrum lies within the infrasound range, i.e. is not audible to humans. What people hear is only a small fraction of the actual power of these sounds. They are low-frequency acoustic emissions in the range between 20 and 100 Hz modulated by ultra-low infrasonic waves from 0.1 to 15 Hz. In geophysics, they are called acoustic-gravity waves; they are formed in the upper atmosphere, at the atmosphere-ionosphere boundary in particular. There can be quite a lot of causes why those waves are generated: earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, storms, tsunamis, etc. However, the scale of the observed humming sound in terms of both the area covered and its power far exceeds those that can be generated by the above-mentioned phenomena.

In that case, what could be causing this humming in the sky?

In our opinion, the source of such powerful and immense manifestation of acoustic-gravity waves must be very large-scale energy processes. These processes include powerful solar flares and huge energy flows generated by them, rushing towards Earth’s surface and destabilizing the magnetosphere, ionosphere and upper atmosphere. Thus, the effects of powerful solar flares: the impact of shock waves in the solar wind, streams of corpuscles and bursts of electromagnetic radiation are the main causes of generation of acoustic-gravitation waves following increased solar activity.

Given the surge in solar activity as manifested itself in the higher number and energy of solar flares since mid-2011, we can assume that there is a high probability of impact of the substantial increase in solar activity on the generation of the unusual humming coming from the sky. It should be pointed out that solar activity began to rise sharply since early 2011, with its amplitude significantly higher than all forecasts given by a number of influential scientific institutions in 2010 and 2011. Meanwhile, the observed increase in solar activity is fully consistent with the forecast of the International Committee GEOCHANGE published in the Committee’s Report in June 2010. If this growth rate of solar activity continues, its amplitude by the end of 2012 will be higher than the amplitude of 23rd solar cycle, and in 2013-2014 the solar activity will reach its peak the amplitude of which was predicted by us to be 1.5 – 1.7 times higher than the amplitude of the 23rd cycle.

But you said that the cause of the “sky hum” can lie within Earth’s core as well, what does it mean?

There is one more possible cause of these sounds and it may lie at the Earth’s core. The fact is that the acceleration of the drift of the Earth’s north magnetic pole which increased more than fivefold between 1998 and 2003 and is at the same level today points to intensification of energy processes in the Earth’s core, since it is processes in the inner and outer core that form the Earth’s geomagnetic field. Meanwhile, as we have already reported, on November 15, 2011 all ATROPATENA geophysical stations which record three-dimensional variations of the Earth’s gravitational field almost simultaneously registered a powerful gravitational impulse. The stations are deployed in Istanbul, Kiev, Baku, Islamabad and Yogyakarta, with the first and last one being separated by a distance of about 10,000 km. Such a phenomenon is only possible if the source of this emanation is at the Earth’s core level. That huge energy release from the Earth’s core at the end of the last year was some kind of a start signal indicating the transition of the Earth’s internal energy into a new active phase.

Intensification of the energy processes in the Earth’s core can modulate the geomagnetic field which, through a chain of physical processes at the ionosphere – atmosphere boundary level, generates acoustic-gravity waves the audible range of which has been heard by people in the form of a frightening low-frequency sound in different parts of our planet.

In both cases, even though the causes of acoustic-gravity waves are of a quite understandable geophysical nature, they are indicative of the expected significant increase in solar activity and the geodynamic activity of our planet. There is no doubt that processes in the core rule the internal energy of our planet, therefore, we should expect by the end of 2012 a sharp rise in strong earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and extreme weather events with peak levels in 2013 – 2014.

via STRANGE SOUNDS IN SKY EXPLAINED BY SCIENTISTS.