Lifestyle & Belief

Giant sunspot could mean massive solar storm


This image shows a powerful solar flare released on Nov. 4, 2003. The Extreme ultraviolet Imager in the 195A emission line aboard the SOHO spacecraft captured the event.



A sunspot measuring more than 60,000 miles across has scientists worried. The spot, which is large enough for amateur astronomers to see with simple equipment, could be an indication that large solar storms may be coming to earth, according to NBC.

The sun spots have already proven to be very active, firing off several C class storms. According to Live Science, "Solar physicists classify flares into three main categories: C, M and X, with C being the least powerful and X the strongest."

According to Phys.Org, Mike Hapgood, a space weather scientist at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford, England believes much of the planet's electronic equipment has been built to withstand these periodic geomagnetic storms. However Hapgood also argues the world is still not prepared for a truly damaging solar storm.

More from GlobalPost: Solar storm hits Earth after huge solar flare (VIDEO)

Hapgood told The LA Times, it is important to understand the difference between a solar flare and a solar storm. Solar storms can emit a coronal mass ejection (CME) which he explained, "are caused when the magnetic field in the sun's atmosphere gets disrupted and then the plasma, the sun's hot ionized gas, erupts and send charged particles into space. Think of it like a hurricane — is it headed toward us or not headed toward us? If we're lucky, it misses us."

Hapgood told the Times, the effects of a massive CME event could be devastating. "A big geomagnetic storm can essentially put extra electric currents into the grid," said Hapgood. "If it gets bad enough, you can have a complete failure of the power grid — it happened in Quebec back in 1989. If you've got that, then you've just got to get it back on again. But you could also damage the transformers, which would make it much harder to get the electric power back."

Hapgood further explained, his biggest concern would be power outages lasting for months. In the modern world, we use electricity for so many things," Hapgood said. "We require electrical power to pump water into people's houses and to pump the sewage away. [You can imagine] what could happen if the sewage systems aren't pumping stuff away. If you don't have power, you can't pump fuel into vehicles. If you don't have any fuel, traffic could come to a standstill."

According to NBC, Solar activity fluctuates on an 11-year cycle. Scientists think the current one — known as Solar Cycle 24 — will peak in 2013.

More from GlobalPost: What is a solar flare and how will it affect Earth? (PHOTOS)