Holes in Earth’s magnetic cloak let the sun in

Holes in Earth’s magnetic cloak let the sun in

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The Earth’s protective magnetosphere has two large holes that are letting in disruptive solar winds, scientists said on Tuesday.

Understanding how these holes form will help them better predict the electrical storms that cause power grid blackouts and the aurora, activity that will peak in 2012 as sunspots hit their maximum level…

“The opening was huge — four times wider than Earth itself,” said Raeder. “This kind of influx is an order of magnitude greater than what we thought was possible.”

Most of the particles are deflected back into space, but some circulate in the magnetosphere, get energized, and cause electrical storms that trigger power grid outages, cause problems for aircraft flying over the poles, and can damage satellites in geosynchronous orbit.

“There’s a bigger risk because we have more stuff in space now,” said Raeder.

Scientists said that the majority of solar storms take place midway through and on the tail end of the solar cycle. This 11-year cycle of activity is at its minimum now and electrical storms will be at their peak in 2012. http://www.reuters.com/article/scienceNews/idUSTRE4BF79220081216

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