Issue #2(20) 2019 Environment

Lessons from the Sun

In 1972 individual power companies did not make broad public announcements of power grid issues, as it was the norm to repair and move on.
In 1972 individual power companies did not make broad public announcements of power grid issues, as it was the norm to repair and move on.
Delores J Knipp University of Colorado Boulder, USA

It was late summer of 1972. Solar observers, who had diligently counted, drawn and analysed the sunspots of solar cycle 20, noted a precipitous drop in their number. Solar minimum was approaching but for several months a small region of the Sun had pulsed with hints of a new spot group. Delores Knipp recounts the tale of a bad week for both the Sun and Earth.

It was hoped that the mottled spot rounding the solar limb on 30 July 1972 would provide some welcome variety for observers, but there was no way they could detect the tube of intense solar magnetism snaking its way to the surface. By 31 July, the region - newly named McMath Region 11976 - showed signs of magnetic emergence. The growing spot harboured striking magnetic complexity and energy for solar eruptions. Observatories around the world trained telescopes on the region as their staff, perhaps secretly, hoped for something spectacular.

The dog days of summer 1972 saw NASA personnel preparing for the final Apollo mission to the Moon, to be launched in December 1972. At the time, hundreds of spacecraft orbited Earth. Some served military needs and a few provided commercial services. Many had payloads investigating the nature of the near-Earth environment, including two satellites that carried detectors built by the US Navy to view X-ray flares from the solar atmosphere, a new research satellite to observe gamma rays and other spacecraft with rudimentary solar wind detectors.

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