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John Wheeler, WDAY, Published March 10 2012

Weather Talk: Solar storms can bring beauty and destruction

With the sun’s surface becoming more active over the past year or so, the number of solar storms has also increased. These storms emit huge amounts of high-energy particles that can interact with gasses in Earth’s upper atmosphere, causing the gasses to emit photons, creating the beautiful northern lights.

News stories are often triggered by these solar storms, warning of potential damage to communications satellites and power grids. The recent frequency of these reports may be creating a “cry wolf” effect because usually nothing important happens.

The fact is, bad things can happen from solar storms. Several communications satellites were damaged or destroyed during the last solar maximum in the early 1990s, and in 1989, the power grid in Quebec was affected, resulting in massive blackouts.

But solar storms do not cause damage every time they occur. Most of the time, the only effect is the beautiful aurora. So the news reports are not wrong, they just sometimes lack perspective.

Have a weather question you’d like answered? Email weather@wday.com,

or write to WDAY Stormtracker, WDAY-TV, Box 2466, Fargo, ND 58108

Read the blog at http://stormtrack.areavoices.com