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Last Post 10/18/2012 10:48 AM by  Pat Reiff
Solar Storm Warning
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10/16/2012 1:51 PM
    Hello Scientists, I was looking for infromation about Solar Storms and found this site: Can the effect of a Solar Storm really be that bad? Can you comment on the site? Thanks
    Tags: solar storms, space weather, Solar Storm Warning, storm, forecasting

    Kris Sigsbee

    Basic Member

    Basic Member

    10/16/2012 3:11 PM


    You need to be very careful about where you get information on the Internet. If you think something looks too sensational too be true, but are not sure, it is always a good idea to ask someone you trust like a parent, teacher, or your friendly Solar Week scientists.

    Here are a few things that can tell you this web site is suspicious, even if you are not a scientist. At the top of this web site, it says that "Award-winning astrophysicist Alexia Demetria says our solar system is entering an interstellar energy cloud that will soon bring global catastrophe." However, I could not find anywhere on this web site that says what awards Alexia Demetria has received, or even where this person works or where she received her Ph.D. If you try to Google for Alexia Demetria, you get a lot of other web sensational web sites that predict doom and gloom. I didn't see things that you would find for most of the legitimate scientists I know when you Google their names, such as conference abstracts, scientific papers, activities with scientific societies, etc. Most astrophysicists work for colleges, universities, or government agencies but I could not find anything with Google that said where Alexia Demetria works. If you look around the web site, there is a contact section, but it doesn't give a street address, although it has a generic looking map and lists office hours. There are words misspelled all over the web site too. Much of the information on this web site consists of graphs and images copied from other sources, such as NOAA, but it does not always provide links back the original sources.

    When looking for information about science on the Internet, you should stick to trustworthy sources that are known for providing information about a particular topic. Some examples would be web sites for government agencies such as NASA and NOAA, the National Academy of Sciences, colleges and universities, scientific societies like the American Geophysical Union. There are also magazines online like Sky and Telescope that have a reputation for providing accurate information. is another good place to look for information.

    Solar activity can cause geomagnetic storms that have the potential to damage satellites we use for communication, weather forecasts, and navigation. A famous geomagnetic storm in March 1989 took out part of the Hydro-Quebec power grid. Geomagnetic storms also pose a health risk for astronauts. However, it is highly unlikely that a large solar storm could cause a widespread global catastrophe of the type described on the web site. Yes, our technology is vulnerable to damage from severe geomagnetic storms, but scientists and engineers around the world are working to understand geomagnetic storms and the effects of solar activity in order to prevent solar storms from causing major disruptions to society in the future.


    KD Leka

    Basic Member

    Basic Member

    10/17/2012 11:55 AM

    Hi; This is a good question and that usually means there are no easy answers. Kris's reply is excellent.

    It is true we do not understand everything about solar storms (that is why we and many other scientists and engineers are working hard on these questions), and it is true that the Sun may, at some point, produce a solar storm bigger than what we've experienced and there may be some wide spread consequences. It is true that the National Academy of Sciences is aware of this and that awareness has helped direct some of the funding for research.

    That all being said, for the most part we DO have enough understanding of the Sun and our immediate galactic surroundings to be able to provide some warning of when the possibility of a huge event may occur. We know what kind of sunspots are generally responsible for huge storms, what kind of solar structures are the precursors to large CMEs, and when those kinds of sunspots and structures are visible, every relevant agency does start watching carefully and acting accordingly. Similarly, the local neighborhood of the galaxy is fairly well mapped out, we are discovering potentially hazardous asteroids all the time and tracking them, and while we don't know everything, what is shown on that site isn't a mysterious Dark Rift, it's a bunch of clouds and dust, mostly Hydrogen, mostly harmless, and mostly not near where we are.

    Some other comments about that site: government-issued alerts like are posted there under 'NASA real time solar storm alerts', um, well what is posted is coming from NOAA, not NASA. Without some training, government alerts can sound either boring or worse than they are, and real scientific data is just a bunch of numbers or pictures, and it takes some experience to understand what it all means. So when a site like you found makes things sound scary all the time but you know that in day-to-day life all the scary things aren't happening, the credibility is pretty low ("boy who cried wolf" effect).

    There are good sites to help interpret the government alerts, including the same government sites themselves: see The NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center pages, for example, of how to interpret some of the NOAA alerts. Seeing a whole bunch of "EXTENDED WARNING: Geomagnetic K-index of 5 expected" can sound alarming, but it helps to understand that it means a minor disturbance, for which the government needs to warn some industries which may see some minor impacts, but won't be noticed and it honestly happens a lot of the time.

    What can be cool about some of these real data feeds such as from NOAA or NASA is that with a little bit of education, they can provide for some really cool information about the beautiful aspects of space weather and astronomy, and that merits a lot more attention from everyone than the feat that mis-interpretation brings. The alerts can signal some spectacular aurora, which are the beautiful and wonderous effects. So, a little bit of understanding can bring the fear way down and the interest way back up. There are very few commercial pseudo-science .com sites (vs. commercial research sites, such as where I work or Lockheed, etc) that I'd trust, and again Kris's guidelines are good for trust: watch for spelling errors, bias, un-traceable claims. I'll say most pure research sites are just research and may sound excited about the research but for the most part may also sound dry and boring. From the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center page, they have trusted links at One that Kris mentions, however, that I also really love is It is unbiased, filled with very informative commentary, isn't fear-mongering, is filled with great photography, has an atmospheric optics expert on-hand (whose research is easily found and traceable) to explain some weird stuff, and it demonstrates that most of what goes on around us is amazingly cool and interesting and worth watching (rather than being scared of). I strongly suggest to check it out (it's my 'home page").

    Cheers, -KD

    Pat Reiff

    New Member

    New Member

    10/18/2012 10:48 AM
    There was a superstorm in 1859. Who knows if there will be one again, and when?
    The good news is, a big storm starts with a solar flare, and scientists are always monitoring the Sun to watch for sunspot groups that are complex and "ready to pop". Once a flare happens, there will be a day or two for the CME to arrive. Our model uses solar wind data to predict how severe the storm will be. You can see our predictions at
    That page has a link to forecasts of the aurora (45 to 60 minutes in advance). And you can register to get a free email when we predict storms (generally 3 hours in advance). This forecasting is courtesy of the NASA MMS mission.
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