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Saturday, November 8, 1997 Published at 13:00 GMT



Sci/Tech

Solar flares threaten Earth

Solar flares could disrupt electronic communications

Scientists at NASA and the European space agency have detected a huge eruption of gas from the sun's surface, which could have serious consequences for communications and power supplies on Earth.


[ image: The surface of the sun is in constant turmoil]
The surface of the sun is in constant turmoil
The scientists say that they have not only been able to detect the solar flares as they occur but are now able to predict the events before they happen.

The evidence comes from a satellite in orbit one million miles from Earth which gives an uninterrupted view of the sun. Over the last few days the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) has detected increasing instability on the surface of the sun.


[ image: The SOHO satellite, one million miles from earth recorded the flare]
The SOHO satellite, one million miles from earth recorded the flare
On Tuesday it detected intense energy released from the surface that had been building up over several days. The energy created an explosive solar flare releasing millions of tons of gas into space.

The mass of the gas is four times the combined mass of the earth and moon. Scientists believe the solar flare is not heading towards Earth.

Previous solar flares have disrupted communications systems and even electricity supplies. The disruption depends on the direction but also the size of the explosion.

They often measure three times the diameter of the Earth, but recently scientists have measured at explosions reaching out into space for the equivalent of ten Earth diameters.


[ image: Andre Balogh:
Andre Balogh: "We can defend ourselves"
Scientists say detecting the solar flares is an important breakthrough. Andre Balogh from Imperial College in London said: "We need to know when they are coming and how effective they will be at disrupting our lives. I think we can defend ourselves when we know how to forecast them".

Scientists are predicting storms up to five times the size of recent explosions by the year 2000.






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