Solar storms ‘could ruin coverage of the 2012 Olympics’

Solar storms could ruin coverage of the 2012 Olympics, scientists have warned.
By Kate Devlin, Medical Correspondent
Published: 7:30AM GMT 03 Feb 2010

Communication systems could be damaged by magnetic storms and solar flares, massive explosions in the sun’s atmosphere.

They are predicted to reach an 11-year peak at the same time as the London Olympics.

The warning came as astronomers prepare for the launch of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which will carry British instruments as part of a project to study the sun.

It is due to launch from the American space agency’s base at Cape Canaveral in Florida next week.

The probe will take pictures of the sun in high definition and send back large amounts of data to earth every day – the equivalent of downloading around half a million songs from iTunes.

Prof Richard Holdaway, from the Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory (RAL), near Oxford and one of the British scientists involved in the project, said: “The Olympics could be bang in the middle of a solar maximum.”

Until now scientists have had no way to predict these storms, which can be powerful enough to affect satellite transmissions, but they hope that the new observatory will change that.

Prof Richard Harrison, also from RAL, added: “The sun’s activity has a strong influence on the Earth.

“By studying solar activity, we hope to improve the prediction of solar storms and find new ways to protect technological systems here on Earth.”

Damage could be reduced by turning off some electronic system before a storm.

“If we have advance warning, we’ll be able to mitigate damage,” said Prof Holdaway.

“What you don’t want is things switching off for a week with no idea what’s caused the problem.”

After its launch the Nasa probe will spend the next five years in orbit about the Earth.

Violent weather can originate in the sun’s atmosphere and affect satellites and even power grids on Earth.

Solar storms usually take between one and two days to affect earth.

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