Washington, Nov 13 - Many people are worrying about a gigantic 'killer flare' which could be hurled by the sun and devastate life on earth. But US space agency NASA says there simply isn't enough energy in the sun to send a killer fireball 93 million miles away.
Given the fact that solar activity is currently ramping up its standard 11-year cycle, there is a belief that 2012 could be coinciding with such a flare.
But this same solar cycle has occurred over the millennia. Anyone over the age of 11 has already lived through such a solar maximum with no harm. Besides, the next solar maximum is predicted to occur in late 2013 or early 2014, not 2012, according to a National Aeronautics and Space Administration - statement.
This is not to say that space weather can't affect our planet. The explosive heat of a solar flare can't reach our globe, but electromagnetic radiation and energetic particles can.
Solar flares can temporarily signal transmission from, say, a Global Positioning System - satellite to earth causing it to be off by many yards. Another phenomenon produced by the sun could be even more disruptive.
Known as a coronal mass ejection -, these solar explosions propel bursts of particles and electromagnetic fluctuations into earth's atmosphere.
Those fluctuations could induce electric fluctuations at ground level that could blow out transformers in power grids. The CME's particles can also collide with crucial electronics onboard a satellite and disrupt its systems.
In an increasingly technological world, where almost everyone relies on cell phones and GPS controls not just your in-car map system but also airplane navigation and the extremely accurate clocks that govern financial transactions, space weather is a serious matter.
But it is a problem the same way hurricanes are a problem. One can protect oneself with advance information and proper precautions. During a hurricane watch, a homeowner can stay put...or he can seal up the house, turn off the electronics and get out of the way.