Conditions in January have remained quiet with the A index at 5 and the K index at 2. However, January will end with a disturbance on the 27th, with 'A' index peaking at 5 and the 'K' Index at 3. The 29th should be calm followed by a lesser disturbance on the 30th, then the calm conditions will then remain until at least February 14th. From: http://www.wm7d.net/hamradio/solar/27d_forecast.shtml
Severe Space Weather.
Severe Geomagnetic Storms can affect other things besides radio reception, according to a recent report in NASA Science News. The problem begins with the electric power grid. "Electric power is modern society's cornerstone technology on which virtually all other infrastructures and services depend," the report notes. Yet it is particularly vulnerable to bad space weather. Ground currents induced during geomagnetic storms can actually melt the copper windings of transformers at the heart of many power distribution systems. Sprawling power lines act like antennas, picking up the currents and spreading the problem over a wide area. The most famous geomagnetic power outage happened during a space storm in March 1989 when six million people in Quebec lost power for 9 hours. To estimate the scale of such a failure, report co-author John Kappenmann of the Metatech Corporation looked at the great geomagnetic storm of May 1921, which produced ground currents as much as ten times stronger than the 1989 Quebec storm, and modeled its effect on the modern power grid. He found more than 350 transformers at risk of permanent damage and 130 million people without power. The loss of electricity would ripple across the social infrastructure with "water distribution affected within several hours; perishable foods and medications lost in 12-24 hours; loss of heating/air conditioning, sewage disposal, phone service, fuel re-supply and so on. Read the full article at: http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2009/21jan_severespaceweather.htm
NASA'S Mission to Improve Predictions of Violent Space Weather
Sometime between the end of 2008 and the beginning 2009, NASA will launch the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) to trace Solar disturbances back to their origin deep within the sun. SDO will discover how the sun builds up and explosively releases magnetic energy, which powers severe space weather.
"Right now, we can make limited space weather predictions, but they are baby steps compared to our ability to forecast weather on Earth," said Dr. Dean Pesnell of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre, Greenbelt, Md., Project Scientist for SDO. "SDO's instruments are designed to work together to tell us more about how solar storms form, which will improve predictions of when they are about to happen."
Heat from nuclear fusion in the sun's core makes its outer layer churn like a pot of boiling water. Solar storms are born deep in this outer layer, with tangled magnetic fields generated by the sun’s churning electrically conducting gas (plasma). Like a rubber band that has been twisted too far, solar magnetic fields can suddenly snap to a new shape, releasing tremendous energy as a solar flare or a coronal mass ejection (CME).
Solar flares are explosions in the sun’s atmosphere, with the largest equal to billions of one-megaton nuclear bombs. Solar magnetic energy can also blast billions of tons of plasma into space at millions of miles (kilometres) per hour as a CME. This violent solar activity often occurs near sunspots, dark regions on the sun caused by concentrated magnetic fields. Sunspots and stormy solar weather follow a cycle that repeats approximately every eleven years, from few sunspots and quiet conditions to many sunspots and active, and back again.
The key to predicting solar storms and the solar activity cycle is an understanding of the flows of plasma inside the sun. Magnetic fields are "frozen" into the solar plasma, so plasma currents within the sun transport, concentrate, and help dissipate solar magnetic fields. Currently, the Sun’s activity is at its minimum, but by the time of the SDO launch, the activity level is expected to rise significantly.
Although the general process of solar activity and its cyclic behaviour are known, many of the details are not, such as exactly what magnetic structures lead to flares and CMEs. These details need to be discovered before solar storm predictions improve, and SDO's suite of three instruments is designed to do just that. ( From: http://www.physorg.com/news123774611.html )
Thanks to Mike Terry and Ken Fletcher for regular updates.