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It’s coming.

In 2013, the sun’s solar activity will reach a peak and it could lead to some disruptions here on Earth. Those disturbances range from auroras, to radiation storms and, in extreme cases, massive blackouts.

But now scientists feel they’ll be a bit more prepared. Yesterday, NASA announced that it can predict how and when solar activity will effect Earth.

Why is this important? Well, here’s some background.

The sun has a fairly regular cycle. About every 11 years, the sun goes through a cycle of low and high activity. During a low phase, or solar minimum, there aren’t that many sun spots visible on the sun’s surface. During a high phase, or solar maximum, there can be hundreds of visible sun spots.  Take a look at the graph below. It shows an 11-year cycle beginning in 1996. You can see how how the activity on the sun’s surface intensifies around 2001.

Courtesy of NASA

During times of high activity, the sun suddenly – and quite violently – releases gas and magnetic fields called CMEs, or coronal mass ejections.

According to a release on NASA’s Web site,

CMEs are large clouds of charged particles that are ejected from the sun over the course of several hours and can carry up to ten billion tons of plasma. They expand away from the sun at speeds as high as a million miles an hour. A CME can make the 93-million-mile journey to Earth in just two to four days.

A large CME could power the United States for a million years, according to NASA. While that sounds pretty cool, we can’t really harness that power. Well, not yet. A large CME could disrupt power grids, pipelines, and satellites. With the ability to predict solar weather, we on Earth can be a bit more prepared if a large CME were heading our way.

Want more information about solar flares and CME’s? Check out this video: