High Solar Activity Has Scientists Stumped

Defying predictions, the sun continues to ignore its established 11-year solar cycle. It has remained extremely active long past what should have been the beginning of the solar minimum, and now another group of enormous sunspots has appeared on the far side and is rotating in our direction.

Eight coronal mass ejections (CMEs) have exploded away from the sun since July 22nd. This high level of activity is not producing auroras on Earth, however, because none of the CMEs is heading our way. All of the blasts have been on the farside of the sun.

That's about to change, though, according to solar observers, because the active area is rotating in earth's direction.

Last year, the sun may have signalled a period of unrest when the solar magentic pole shift, which takes place every 11 years, failed to complete. The sun's magnetic field is now in a more-or-less horizontal position, because the shift between north and south poles did not complete.

Whether or not this has anything to do with high levels of solar activity is unknown.

Normally, not even the most violent solar explosions have a significant effect on earth, beyound disrupting radio and satellite communications and, in extremely rare cases, affecting power grids that are improperly shielded against solar energy.

However, sufficiently strong coronal mass ejections also bring heat with them, and this can cause ground temperatures to soar over the short term, especially in dry areas. Given the large number of dry forests on earth at this time, should such a CME head toward the planet, further heating and drying can be expected, and, in some cases, there is the possibility of spontaneous combustion, especially of plants rich in volatile oils.


Speaking of forest fires, as I travelled through the Rockies on my way west I drove through a mountain town called Barriere. About two years ago, a careless volunteer fire-fighter threw his still-lit cigarette butt away and ignited a couple of mountains. The resulting inferno destroyed thousands and thousands of acres of heavily forested mountainside, on both sides of the river and almost took out the town of Barriere. Thanks to the tireless and desperate efforts of the townspeople and firefighters, the town was saved. This was my first look at the area since the fire and it was a sad, depressing sight to see mile and miles of blackend trees, the only remains of what was once deeply wooded and teeming with life.

The fire-fighter came forward and confessed to his deed and was charged thousands of dollars in fines, but his days will be far from easy for a very long time as many are suing because their homes and livelihood (a lumber mill) were lost.




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Juli 2005

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