x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Weather a solar storm

A "coronal mass ejection" is putting Earth under a kind of assault from the sun, but this is nothing our planet can't handle.

Our planet came under assault from space on Tuesday, as high-energy protons from the Sun struck the Earth's magnetic field a glancing blow at 2,250km per second.

If this sounds like the start of a bad movie, don't worry. It's just a solar flare, really, and it has pepped up the aurora borealis and aurora australis, the space fireworks around the poles.

But this "coronal mass ejection", as scientists call it, is not expected to do any real harm. It's the strongest such solar flare since 2005, and a few airline flights skirting the poles have been re-routed, but even the crew of the International Space Station is said to be safe.

It could be worse: a burst of solar energy like this, if it were headed directly for our little planet, could disrupt mobile phone networks and satellite-based services such as global positioning systems, or even knock out parts of the world's electricity grid. But not this time.

Even in such a worst case, though, prudent planning can minimise risks, to the power grid as to individuals. Space has some harsh "weather" but so does the planet's surface, and humans have learnt to cope.

For centuries, after all, people in this part of the world have coped successfully with the long-running solar assault known as summer - and they found their way around without GPS gadgets, too.