Solar flare: SA is safe

24 January 2012 – 13:42
By Hannah Keal

If you have received a message doing the rounds warning of the potential damaging fall out from a huge solar flare, the good news is experts say there is no cause for alarm.

Newswatch has touched base with Dr. Pierre Cilliers, a research physicist at the Space Science Directorate of the SA National Space Agency.

He has explained that a flare on the sun erupted yesterday, causing a coronal mass ejection (CME) from the sun, which is now heading towards earth. According to Nasa, solar flares are “our solar system’s largest explosive events.”

“These flares travel with various speeds, this one is a fairly fast one and is likely to arrive at the earth around about 4pm this afternoon, however there is no definite confirmation yet that it will hit the earth. These flares leave the sun and only arrive at our first observation point, a satellite looking at the sun, a day or two later. Until it arrives at that satellite, we do not know for certain that it will hit the earth,” Cilliers said.
(Above: The flare on the sun as it happened on Monday)

He says the potential impact will be similar to that of previous flares; it may effect radio communications, satellites and the internet.

“How long it may last is very difficult to say at this stage because will only know that once we see the storm in effect. It could last anything from a few hours to a few days. Also, how severe the impact will be is also unpredictable at this stage. The solar weather predictions in the United States think that it may be a minor storm, if it hits the earth,” he said.

While emails have been doing the rounds, warning citizens to stay indoors, Cillier says the UV radiation is unlikely to pose a danger.

“The potential impact on people being out in the sun is not of the kind that they are going to be zapped. But there may be a slight increase in the UV radiation that we get. We know that when there is such a flare coming into our atmosphere much of the UV is absorbed by our upper atmosphere, but some of it still trickles through and so there may be a slight rise in UV radiation during the course of the afternoon, but since it’s getting towards later in the afternoon, it is travelling through a larger part of the atmosphere and so it is not likely to be severe.”