Could “Giant” Coronal Hole signal new Solar Cycle?

Every 12-15 years, the Sun has a “temper tantrum” and throws out MASSIVE amounts of solar wind, solar material and lots of energy out into space, a lot of it hitting us.  This has been going on for millions (and likely billions) of years.  While this normally doesn’t do anything to us, it does create a heck of a light show with the aurora borealis, as it slams into earth’s northern magnetic fields.   However, this could spell disaster for us today.

What’s different about our lives now than 12-15 years ago?  Technology.  Flash forward from 15 years ago.  Now, everyone has a GPS in their car.  Everyone has a cell phone.  Everyone has a laptop.

So what?  Well, when solar wind slams into the Earth’s magnetic fields, called the Van Allen Belts, they create what’s called a magnetic storm.  The Earth’s magnetic system wobbles around, and indeed, could even be affected if the storm is strong enough (Such as a Magnetic pole reversal, in the most severe of cases…).  Even slight “wobbles” of our magnetic pole can cause massive problems for our technology fueled society.

All of a sudden, computer networks go down.  The computers that run the NYSE-Euronext stock market find themselves functioning improperly, losing all sorts of trades, or worse, messing made-trades up.  GPS satellites go offline, causing navigation and timing problems.

Why is this a big deal now?  Well, we’re on the verge of another solar cycle.  Sometime between now, and the beginning of 2014, the solar cycle is expected to peak.  This is usually marked with increasing amounts of solar wind and even coronal mass emissions from the sun, where massive amounts of solar material is ejected into space.  In the last few days, NASA has released a picture of the surface of the sun, where it (color-adjusted for temperature) seems to be a dead-zone.  This normally happens when mass ejections take place.   In this instance, a MASSIVE emission took place that has sent the material hurtling toward Earth at roughly 2 million miles per hour.  The diameter of the “hole” is roughly 400,000 miles across — or 50 earths wide.

Could this be the start of the solar cycle that tests how hardened and resilient (or not?) our electronics and networks are, that geeks and computer engineers have been dreading for years?

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