Around the World

Waiting for the Sun

Chad W. Lutz
The upcoming election may yet prove to be one of the most important in the history of our young country since Nixon/Kennedy in 1960. With a major healthcare mandate hanging in the balance and the rights of the LBGT community on the cusp of widespread and popular acceptance the decisions we make as a country this November 6 are astronomically important. However, none of this truly means anything.

While we as humans sit around in fancy marble structures and wear brightly colored cotton and nylon suits, barking directives in pairs and fighting for socially relevant initiatives, much more is taking place in the universe, much, much more.

On July 4, a day where many, no doubt, attended parades and ate ice cream and tried their best to stay out of the record heat, the sun had other plans. Millions of light years away, the giant ball of gas suspended in the vast vacuum we call Space began emitting high levels of radiation, some of the highest levels ever recorded by NASA. The solar flares disrupted communications across the globe and downed several radio frequencies. This happened all while you were sucking on chili dogs at Aunt Martha’s 4th of July picnic.

However, major news stations across the country chose to show special interest pieces and continuing fallout from the healthcare mandate ruling. Tight-wound housewives demonstrated the finer skills of turning a Styrofoam ball into a decorative table piece using patriotic drink umbrellas and half-witted talking heads spouted ubiquitous truths like candy. No one made mention of the solar phenomena. The President was, however, challenged to arm wrestle for a vote.

Meanwhile, back in reality, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory casually orbiting our planet picked up on some rather generous amounts of solar activity last week. A series of solar flares, or coronal mass ejections (you kiss your mother with that mouth?) were recorded by the satellite between July 1 and July 6. NASA and the Solar Dynamics Observatory use the H-alpha classification system, which incorporates both the intensity and emitting surface of a solar flare, and a more general solar flare classification system which gauges X-ray wattage to classify solar flares. The weakest solar flares receive an A rating on the general scale followed by B, C, M, and then X. Active sun spots, which produce solar flares, contain highly concentrated particles of solar energy and burn close to 100,000,000 degrees Celsius. The Earth’s magnetic field traps and twists these particles in highly confined and dense spaces. The resulting twist of solar magnetism produces coronal mass ejections or sun flares.

Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the first ever X solar flare on Friday, July 6. The massive solar flare, which escaped an area the width of 15 Earths side by side, produced an impressive display of light and heat captured by Solar Dynamics Observatory and NASA. Beginning July 1, the sun began emitting Class M sized solar flares. The sun continued to emit the giant flares of solar radiation, 12 of them, disrupting communication lines throughout various portions of the world. The brilliant display culminated Friday with the first ever X classification solar flare stemming from sunspot group AR1515, an area spanning roughly 118,000 miles of the sun’s surface.
Solar flare located in lower right of Earth’s sun (bright portion) captured July 6, 2012 (NASA)
According to NASA, the sun operates on an 11-year solar cycle in which solar flares become more prevalent toward the end of the cycle. Estimates as to when solar cycles begin and end vary by source, but many experts suggest the current cycle reaches its 11-year height sometime in 2013. Experts also believe as the cycle reaches its peak the intense radiation emitted by the sun will have an indeterminate impact on the people of this planet. In 1989, a coronal mass ejection reportedly stood culprit for wiping out power for more than 6 million Canadians for roughly 9 hours in Quebec.

…you may now return to bi-partisan bickering and Jersey Shore.