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WOW!JAN 25, 2010 - NOAA Scientist Finds Clue to Predicting Solar Flares is proof of what the fox said to the little Little Prince: "what is essential is invisible to the eye". In this case, what's invisible are the magnetic fields beneath the surface of the Sun. What's essential is what happens when these unseen magnetic fields get twisted and then snap - hurling a blast of charged particles (a solar flare) out into space. If that flare is pointed at the third rock from the Sun, all hell breaks loose. Earth-orbiting satellites get blasted, causing trillions of dollars of damage to everything depending on those satellites: agriculture, oil drilling, airline and military operations, banking and anything else that relies on the Global Positioning System (GPS). With the next solar maxium predicted to occur in 2013, we're coming up on a peak in solar flares - with a corresponding peak in risks to our high technology civilization. Fortunately, Alyssha Reinard and her colleagues at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) have discovered a way to tell 2-3 days in advance "when a solar flare will occur and how large it will be". It all hinges on the behavior of magnetic fields below the surface of the Sun, as revealed by solar sound-wave data. It may be true that there's nothing new under the Sun, but a new understanding of what's happening there might just save our bacon!

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