Powerful solar storm hits earth; will it disrupt communication, power grids?

News Network
May 11, 2024

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Washington, May 11: The most powerful solar storm in more than two decades struck Earth on Friday, triggering spectacular celestial light shows from Tasmania to Britain -- and threatening possible disruptions to satellites and power grids as it persists into the weekend.

The first of several coronal mass ejections (CMEs) -- expulsions of plasma and magnetic fields from the Sun -- came just after 1600 GMT, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s Space Weather Prediction Center.

It was later upgraded to an "extreme" geomagnetic storm -- the first since the "Halloween Storms" of October 2003 caused blackouts in Sweden and damaged power infrastructure in South Africa. More CMEs are expected to pummel the planet in the coming days.

Social media lit up with people posting pictures of auroras from northern Europe and Australasia.

"We've just woken the kids to go watch the Northern Lights in the back garden! Clearly visible with the naked eye," Iain Mansfield in Hertford, England, told AFP.

That sense of wonder was shared in Australia's island state of Tasmania.

"Absolutely biblical skies in Tasmania at 4 am this morning. I'm leaving today and knew I could not pass up this opportunity," photographer Sean O' Riordan posted on social media platform X alongside a photo.

Authorities notified satellite operators, airlines, and the power grid to take precautionary steps for potential disruptions caused by changes to Earth's magnetic field.

Elon Musk, whose Starlink satellite internet operator has some 5,000 satellites in low Earth orbit, described the solar storm as the "biggest in a long time."

"Starlink satellites are under a lot of pressure, but holding up so far," Musk posted on his X platform.

Unlike solar flares, which travel at the speed of light and reach Earth in around eight minutes, CMEs travel at a more sedate pace, with officials putting the current average at 800 kilometers (500 miles) per second.

The CMEs emanated from a massive sunspot cluster that is 17 times wider than our planet. The Sun is approaching the peak of an 11-year cycle that brings heightened activity.

'Go outside tonight and look'

Mathew Owens, a professor of space physics at the University of Reading, told AFP that how far the effects would be felt over the planet's northern and southern latitudes would depend on the storm's final strength.

"Go outside tonight and look would be my advice because if you see the aurora, it's quite a spectacular thing," he said. People with eclipse glasses can also look for the sunspot cluster during the day.

In the United States, this could include places such as Northern California and Alabama, officials said.

NOAA's Brent Gordon encouraged the public to try to capture the night sky with phone cameras even if they couldn't see auroras with their naked eyes.

"Just go out your back door and take a picture with the newer cell phones and you'd be amazed at what you see in that picture versus what you see with your eyes."

Spacecraft and pigeons

Fluctuating magnetic fields associated with geomagnetic storms induce currents in long wires, including power lines, which can potentially lead to blackouts. Long pipelines can also become electrified, leading to engineering problems.

Spacecraft are also at risk from high doses of radiation, although the atmosphere prevents this from reaching Earth.

NASA has a dedicated team looking into astronaut safety and can ask astronauts on the International Space Station to move to places within the outpost that are better shielded.

Following one particularly strong flare peak, the US Space Weather Prediction Center said users of high-frequency radio signals "may experience temporary degradation or complete loss of signal on much of the sunlit side of Earth."

Even pigeons and other species that have internal biological compasses could also be affected. Pigeon handlers have noted a reduction in birds coming home during geomagnetic storms, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Officials said people should have the normal backup plans in place for power outages, such as having flashlights, batteries, and radios at hand.

The most powerful geomagnetic storm in recorded history, known as the Carrington Event after British astronomer Richard Carrington, occurred in September 1859.

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News Network
May 20,2024

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Hopes are fading that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister have survived a helicopter crash in mountainous terrain and icy weather, an Iranian official said on Monday after search teams located the wreckage.

"President Raisi's helicopter was completely burned in the crash ... unfortunately, all passengers are feared dead," the official told Reuters.

Rescue teams fought blizzards and difficult terrain through the night to reach the wreckage in East Azerbaijan province in the early hours of Monday.

“We can see the wreckage and the situation does not look good,” the head of Iran’s Red Crescent, Pirhossein Kolivand, told state TV.

Raisi, 63, was elected president in 2021, and since taking office has ordered a tightening of morality laws, overseen a crackdown US-Israel backed anti-government protests and pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers.

A Turkish drone identified a source of heat suspected to be the helicopter's wreckage and had shared the coordinates of the possible crash site with Iranian authorities, Anadolu news agency said earlier on X.

State news agency IRNA said Raisi was flying in a US-made Bell 212 helicopter.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate power with a final say on foreign policy and Iran's nuclear programme, sought to reassure Iranians, saying there would be no disruption to state affairs.

The chief of staff of Iran's army ordered all resources of the army and the elite Revolutionary Guards to be put to use in search and rescue operations.

Earlier, the national broadcaster had stopped all regular programming to show prayers being held for Raisi across the country.

In the early hours of Monday, it showed a rescue team, wearing bright jackets and head torches, huddled around a GPS device as they searched a pitch-black mountainside on foot in a blizzard.

“We are thoroughly searching every inch of the general area of the crash," state media quoted a regional army commander as saying. "The area has very cold, rainy, and foggy weather conditions. The rain is gradually turning into snow."

Several countries expressed concern and offered assistance in any rescue.

The White House said U.S. President Joe Biden had been briefed on reports about the crash. China said it was deeply concerned. The European Union offered emergency satellite mapping technology.

Possible successor to Khamenei

The crash comes at a time of growing dissent within Iran over an array of political, social and economic crises. Iran's clerical rulers face international pressure over Tehran's disputed nuclear programme and its deepening military ties with Russia during the war in Ukraine.

Since Iran’s open support to Hamas’ resistance against Israeli aggression, US and Israel have harshly criticised the President Raisi. 

In Iran's dual political system, split between the clerical establishment and the government, it is Raisi's 85-year-old mentor Khamenei, supreme leader since 1989, who holds decision-making power on all major policies.

For years many have seen Raisi as a strong contender to succeed Khamenei, who has endorsed Raisi's main policies. Raisi's victory in 2021 elections brought all branches of power under the control of revolutionaries, after eight years when the presidency had been held by pragmatist Hassan Rouhani and a nuclear deal negotiated with powers including Washington.

Raisi had been at the Azerbaijani border on Sunday to inaugurate the Qiz-Qalasi Dam, a joint project. Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev, who said he had bid a "friendly farewell" to Raisi earlier in the day, offered assistance in the rescue.

The chopper that was transporting President Raeisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and their companions encountered some difficulties and was forced to make a "hard landing".

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News Network
May 14,2024

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Mangaluru, May 14: The Met department has sounded a yellow alert in 13 districts of Karnataka including the three coastal districts of Udupi, Dakshina Kannada and Uttara Kannada for next four days. 

The other districts are Belagavi, Dharwad, Haveri, Chikkamagalur, Chitradurga, Hassan, Kodagu, Mandya, Ramanagara, Shivamogga. These districts are expected to received 6-11 cm of rain, the department said.

On Monday Dakshina Kannada and Udupi experienced a monsoon-like atmosphere. Rain, accompanied by thunder and lightning, began in most parts on Sunday evening. In Udupi, rain showered in the early hours of Monday. While Kundapur and Udupi received moderate rains, Karkala experienced a heavy downpour.

The showers lowered the daytime temperature in both districts. Light rain fell in Mangaluru and its outskirts early Monday morning. Mangaluru city recorded a maximum temperature of 33.4°C and a minimum of 23.2°C on Monday. This is expected to decrease by two to four degrees in the next four days, according to the weather department. 

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News Network
May 22,2024

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Ireland, Norway and Spain have formally recognized the Palestinian state, angering the Israeli regime that recalled its ambassadors from the two European states.

“Today Ireland, Norway and Spain are announcing that we recognize the state of Palestine, each of us will undertake whatever national steps are necessary to give effect to that decision," Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris said at a news conference in Dublin on Wednesday.

“I am confident that further countries will join us in taking this important step in the coming weeks.”

He added that the move was a statement of "unequivocal support" for the so-called two-state solution, which he described as "the only credible path to peace and security."

Shortly after Harris's statement, his Spanish counterpart Pedro Sanchez and Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said both countries will recognize the Palestine state from May 28.

Sanchez said it is clear is that “[Israeli] prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not have a project of peace for Palestine.”

Store, for his part, noted that there cannot be peace in the West Asia region if there is no recognition.

"Norway’s formal recognition of Palestine as a state will enter into force on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. A number of other like-minded European countries will also formally recognize Palestine on that same date. These countries will be making their own announcements," added a statement by the Norwegian prime minister.

Palestine welcomes recognition 

Meanwhile, secretary general of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Hussein al-Sheikh, welcomed the decision by Norway, Spain and Ireland to recognize the state of Palestine, calling it a “historical moment.”

“Historical moments in which the free world triumphs for truth and justice after long decades of Palestinian national struggle, suffering, pain, occupation, racism, murder, oppression, abuse and destruction to which the people of Palestine were subjected to,” he said in a post on social media platform X, describing the recognition as a path to stability, security and peace.

“We thank the countries of the world that have recognized and will recognize the independent State of Palestine. We affirm that this is the path to stability, security and peace in the region.”

In reaction, Israeli authorities have ordered the regime’s ambassadors from Ireland and Norway to immediately return, and said they would do the same for Spain.

The Spanish prime minister has been one of the most outspoken European leaders when it comes to criticism of the Israeli regime’s genocidal war on Gaza. He has also repeatedly asserted that the so-called two-state solution remains the only answer to the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This comes amid Israel's brutal war on Gaza, which was launched on October 7 after Palestinian resistance groups carried out a surprise retaliatory operation into the occupied territories.

Concomitantly with the war, the regime has been enforcing a near-total siege on the coastal territory, which has reduced the flow of foodstuffs, medicine, electricity, and water into the Palestinian territory into a trickle.

So far during the military onslaught, the regime has killed at least 35,456 Gazans, most of them women, children, and adolescents. Another 79,476 Palestinians have sustained injuries as well.

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