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It's like a heat wave!

Every now and then the sun simply can’t contain itself, according to Pat Hanrahan, planetarium director at Mt. Hood Community College.by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY NASA - This photo is an extreme ultraviolet image of proliferating loops on the sun as seen from NASA´s Solar Dynamic Observatory, and will be discussed at the Dec. 3 Sky Theater presentation at Mt. Hood Community College.

“The sun has an 11-year cycle where it goes from maximum activity to minimum activity back to maximum,” he says. “When it’s near its maximum, it’s having near the most sunspots and solar flares that we will see.”

The sun is reaching its maximum level of activity over the next year and possibly beyond, Hanrahan says, noting this activity will be the subject of his Monday, Dec. 3, presentations at the college’s Sky Theater.

“Our Sun Reaching Solar Maximum” will present some of the latest NASA solar images of sunspots, solar flares, and even sun-quakes, Hanrahan adds. A sun quake happens when waves of solar plasma shoot out from the sun, he says. He will discuss earlier solar maximums as well.

“One of these events occurred in 1859 when solar activity seriously interfered with telegraph transmissions,” he says. “In the 1800s, solar storms were responsible for causing fires on telegraph lines,” he says, noting that the sun’s electromagnetic emissions generated electricity along the power lines.

“Imagine what they could do today with our much more sophisticated electronics,” he says.

Uh oh, does that mean we should return all those gizmos people bought on Black Friday?

“It could mean serious consequences for communications because of damage to satellites and other sensitive equipment,” Hanrahan says. “We may be reading about some unusual electrical events. Years ago, solar activity was responsible for an electrical blackout in Quebec province. We may even be reading about having communications satellites being shut down temporarily to safeguard them from shorts caused by solar activity.”

There’s also a sunny side, so to speak, to all this activity. For example, Hanrahan says, the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, may become visible as far south as Oregon. Auroras are natural light displays in the sky particularly in the high latitude — Arctic and Antarctic regions — caused by the collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in the high altitude atmosphere or thermosphere, according to various sources. These charged particles originate in the magnetosphere and solar wind and, on Earth, are directed by the Earth’s magnetic field into the atmosphere.

Comet’s coming

Hanrahan also will address the discovery of a new comet, which NASA says has the potential to be so bright next year you may be able to see it briefly in the daytime sky, particularly around Nov. 28, 2013, Thanksgiving Day. Russians Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok detected Comet ISON on Sept. 24.

“This could be one of the most impressive comets ever seen,” Hanrahan says. “But then again, I’ve heard that comets are a lot like cats. They may all have tails, but they don’t always behave as you expect them to do.”




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