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article imageEarth has 1-in-8 chance of massive solar megastorm by 2020

By Sean Fraser     Feb 29, 2012 in Science
After experiencing a disruptive solar flare earlier this year, people are more aware of the sun's power. However, a bigger, more destructive solar storm might be in our immediate future.
Pete Riley, a senior scientist at Predictive Science in San Diego, told Gizmodo that there is roughly a 12% chance that the Earth will experience an enormous megaflare within the next ten years. "Even if it's off by a factor of two, that's a much larger number than I thought," said Riley.
Riley published his prediction in Space Weather: The International Journal of Research and Applications.
The science of solar flares is relatively predictable. The sun goes through 11 cycles of activity and inactivity. When highly active, massive sunspots and solar storms are common on the sun's surface. Flares from these storms often lash out, spewing charged particles out into space. Most of the time, these flares are small but large ones can happen, but are rare.
Riley used historical data and the relation of the size and frequency of the flares to make his prediction.
The largest solar flare in history occurred on August 28-September 2, 1859, commonly referred to as "The Carrington Event." British astronomer Richard Carrington witnessed a 17 hour "coronal mass ejection" that disabled telegraph systems all over the world, and even gave telegraph operators a shock. A few telegraph systems continued to send and receive messages despite being disconnected from their power supplies.
More about Sun, Sun, Astronomy, Astronomy, Solar flare
 
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