Hawaii astronomers watch for solar storm - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Hawaii astronomers watch for solar storm

Posted: Updated:
Dr. Shadia Habbal Dr. Shadia Habbal

By Ben Gutierrez - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Astronomers in Hawaii say a large solar storm has the potential to disrupt technology in the islands.

The storm is in the form of a solar flare that erupted from the sun on Tuesday. "Solar flares are large explosions on the sun that happen occasionally and are driven by very, very strong concentrations of magnets," said Dr. Shadia Habbal, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy.

The solar flares are part of the sun's normal storm cycle, which peaks about every eleven years, and is set to peak again next year. It won't harm us, but it does have the potential to cause disruptions. And compared with the last major solar storm in 2002, there's a lot more technology it can disrupt.

"You'll have a disruption in the cell phones for example, anything that we depend on," Habbal said. "GPS will be disrupted, so anything that depends on our use of satellites can be affected."

The earth's magnetic field is usually sufficient to protect us from solar storms, but it can be affected by a strong solar flare.

"When you have a very, very strong storm like we are expecting to happen, it's like you are going to punch the magnetic field of the earth and its going to get squished," said Habbal. And when it's squished, these energetic particles can enter at lower latitudes.

In other words, it will have more of an effect close to the north and south poles. Some airlines flights are being rerouted away from the poles because of higher radiation. But another effect will be more brilliant and colorful auroras.

As far as for the solar storm's possible impact on Hawaii, Habbal said, "I don't think we'll get something in Honolulu, but something could happen in the southern states like Georgia or Florida when there are storms of this nature."

Still, Hawaiian Telcom said its network operations center will be monitoring for "any irregularities caused by the solar event." And Time Warner Oceanic Cable said video services on some channels "may be intermittent or degraded because of solar interference."

Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.