Posted by Marlyn Smith at 12:29 on 2012 Nov 07
Sorry I’m a bit late in replying to your question and Callum has given you an excellent answer. I can only add that the current solar Cycle is a quiet one, probably the quietest we’ve seen in a 100 years. Solar flares are still happening of course but it is not possible to predict when something extraordinary will occur. Sunspot groups are monitored and a close watch is kept on complex groups that could be candidates for X ray flares so that vital equipment can be shut down hopefully in time to prevent or at least minimise damage.The danger doesn’t come so much from direct harm done to life on the Earth due to such a flare as the Sun has been firing off such events for 4.5 billion years and life has flourished ok. It is our technology that has become so vulnerable and our reliance upon it. It is probably the chaos that may ensue and possible civil unrest as a result that could be the problem should electricty/communications etc be knocked out for any length of time.Interestingly NASA scientists have some evidece that the Sun could be on the verge of going into another quiet phase similar to the Maunder Minimum from 1645 to 1715. If so, then our worries of devasting flares will be minimal for the foreseeable!