November 02, 2010

from TheJakartaPost Website

Scientists have forecast a solar storm may occur sometime in 2012 and reportedly its impact can include power outages and mobile phone malfunction.

Clara Y. Yatini, of the National of Aeronautics and Space’s (LAPAN) Solar and Space Division, said activity on the sun’s surface might increase in 2012, causing magnetic storms to hurl energy particles toward earth.

“The energy released from a flare is equal to 100 million hydrogen bombs,” Clara said in Jakarta on Tuesday.

She explained that flares would likely affect satellites, telecommunication towers, power grids and global positioning system (GPS) equipment.

“You should not trust your GPS device during the storm,” Clara said.

The solar flare may disrupt data transfer via electronic devices, she said, adding that it could also cause blackouts as large as those that occurred in Sweden, Denmark and Italy in 2003.

“A blackout in one region can have a global impact.

“This may impact businesses such as those in the finance industry, for example.”

Satellites will suffer the most, she said.

“Flares can reduce a satellite’s age by 50 percent if they are strong enough.”

Astronaut and spaceship safety may also be threatened by powerful geomagnetic storms, the scientist added.

The magnetic storms, a 11-year cycle in sun activity, will last for about one or two hours, but their impact can last for about one or two days.

Nevertheless, researchers cannot tell the exact day the infernal storm will occur.

“The latest release from NASA said it can only predict the storm a week before,” Clara said.

Elly Kuntjahyowati, from the Communications Bureau of LAPAN, said her agency had intensely monitored the sun’s activity to detect explosions or storms.

“We will inform companies about possible explosions, such as [state electricity company] PLN, that may be affected by solar activity,” she said.

LAPAN is currently building a warning system to inform institutions such as the military and PLN about potentially harmful sun storms.

Scientists say the sun’s surface is constantly unstable because of its unequal magnetic rotations.

The earth is protected by a magnetosphere from space “weather”, but the effects from several solar phenomena may go beyond protective layers, given certain interplanetary magnetic fields positions, Clara said.

In March 1989, a power outage due to sun storms occurred in Quebec, Canada.

In April 2001, sun storms harmed several military and communication satellites.

Suwono, head of the post sales division at telecommunication company Indosat, was not worried about the scientists’ prediction, saying the solar storm would only affect certain parts of the company’s coverage areas, which use satellites.

“We mostly use [underground] fiber optic cables,” he said.

But there were possibilities sun storms may affect data transfer through fiber optic cables, he added.

Suwono said Indosat had deployed special disaster data recovery systems to deal with possible data loss due to natural phenomena.

Indosat said signal disruption due to solar activity was nothing new to the industry.

“Often we experience sun interference when the sun’s signals overpower satellite’s.

“Such interference could cause signal disruption lasting one or two minutes.”