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If You’re Not Already Afraid of the Sun, This’ll Do It

The Sun belches out a solar flare.

In case you didn’t have enough reasons to be scared to leave the house, it appears the Sun is about to get a lot more active. Yes, that’s right, you can add “the Sun” to your list of things that cause anxiety when people ask you why you haven’t left your house all weekend because, according to scientists, our favorite ball of nuclear fusion is about to get less “calm.”

On the surface, this isn’t a huge deal. Every 11 years or so, these “solar maximums,” when our Sun becomes more volatile than usual, create storms and we get through them. This is the science behind it, according to Yahoo News:

Every 11 years or so, the sun becomes “convectively unstable,” meaning its magnetic fields become so unstable that the magnetic north and south poles abruptly flip, throwing our star’s polarity out of whack, said Mathew Owens, a professor of space physics at the University of Reading.

The real issue is that humanity collectively is becoming more and more reliant on technology. While these storms don’t pose danger to us directly, they have the ability to throw a lot of energy toward our planet and, as a result, ground planes, create power outages, and knock out communications. Sure, these things sound like everyday annoyances we deal with occasionally, but think about that on a grand scale. Not great! Per Business Insider:

So far, we’ve been lucky. The worst solar storm we’ve seen happened in 1859. But we didn’t rely as much on electricity back then as we do now; the only thing it knocked out were telegraph lines.

Still, a space-weather event in 1989 shows just how vulnerable we’ve become: A huge geomagnetic storm on March 13 cut power for 6 million people in Quebec for nine hours.

Losing power in your home is a drag; losing power in a hospital is life-threatening, but do you need to head for your underground bunker just yet? No—obviously, unless you like being there and find it a nice, calming, relaxing afternoon. These flares can cause misery for the vulnerable because of power outages, and yes, even death. (Imagine being without air conditioning in temperatures over one hundred degrees over a prolonged period of time.) On the whole, though, would they wipe out humanity? No, but the danger they pose, due to our reliance on technology, is real.

We’re not going to end this topic on a sad note, though. There’s an upside to the solar storms, and it’s that you’re far more likely to see the Northern or Southern Lights during them, and friends, they’re beautiful. Per Business Insider:

“The aurora oval that sits up over the northern and southern poles is a result of currents flowing in the Earth’s atmosphere,” Owens said. “And they’re nearly always there, but they become very much stronger when we’ve got a geomagnetic storm going on.”

We’re starting to see some of the effects of these solar flares. The BBC reported that auroras were seen in the southern UK on Sunday night and that more were expected in the coming days.

See? Sometimes you get some good things in addition to some concerning things! Make sure you check your local news to see if there’s any hope of seeing an aurora near you. I promise you it’s worth staying up for. They’re beautiful.

(featured image: NASA/SDO)

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