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NASA Measures Impact Of Huge Solar Flare On Earth's Atmosphere

HAMPTON, Va., March 26, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A key NASA instrument that can directly measure the impact of solar events on the Earth's upper atmosphere has weighed in on the huge flare that impacted Earth last week.

Video/images: http :// www . nasa . gov / mission _ pages / sunearth / news / saber - solarstorm . html

(Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)

The flare was considered one of the largest solar events in years even though its impact on the power grid and communications was minimal due to the angle it hit Earth.

Its direct interaction with the upper atmosphere was measured by NASA's SABER (Sounding of the Atmosphere using Broadband Emission Radiometry) instrument orbiting on the TIMED (Thermosphere, Ionosphere, Mesosphere, Energetics and Dynamics) satellite.

The upper atmosphere heated up, and huge spikes occurred in infrared emission from nitric oxide and carbon dioxide, said Marty Mlynczak, SABER's associate-principal investigator at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

Sol 'waking up'

"It's been seven years since we've had a storm like that," he said. "This is the first major storm event since the deep solar minimum of 2008-2009. We are finally seeing the Sun 'wake up' as it proceeds to the next solar maximum."

A solar maximum is a period of increased activity on the Sun, and minimum-to-maximum-to-minimum cycles generally last 11 years each. Solar activity began to pick up in 2010, is steadily increasing and should peak in late 2014.

As the Sun becomes more active, Mlynczak said, it emits more ultraviolet radiation and produces more solar flares - coronal mass ejections (CMEs) - which are absorbed in the atmosphere. "More heating results, and the atmosphere gets warmer, and the infrared emission increases," he said.

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