On March 10, 1989, there was an explosion on the sun. It catapulted a lot of hot solar plasma into the room at thousands of kilometers at a time.
In the early hours of the 13th this cloud really happened to be a "coronal mass ejection", hit us.
Earth's magnetic field convulsed, triggering a large magnetic storm that caused power cuts, communication disturbances, and somewhere around $ 2 billion worth of damage.
If we had another event like that today, the consequences would be huge. We are now tied together by a complex communication, power and transport infrastructure in a way that affects almost every aspect of our lives.
Solar activity can interrupt radio communication and disable communication satellites. Sun-rayed currents can cause power supply failure and improved pipeline corrosion.
Improved high altitude radiation due to solar activity can be a danger to air travel on polar routes. Navigation systems can be disturbed and in the ground, rail signaling systems can be affected.
Imagine losing the internet for a week or if you've put all your data in the cloud so you can't connect to it. Until recently we had no information on how big a solar storm could be other than the event in 1859.
Now we know the sun can do much better than that.
Although our medieval ancestors would not have noticed much sun activity and solar storms, apart from occasional displays of aurora, these storms left some environmental signatures.
Solar activity alters the intensity of high energy particles that hit the upper atmosphere. When these particles hit oxygen or nitrogen atoms, they create new elements, some of them radioactive.
These new elements are carried down in rain and snow to the Earth's surface. In most places they just diffuse into the ground. But when these atoms fall on permanent ice caps, they are trapped in a layer of surface ice.
Then a second layer is formed on top and so on, so that the ice contains a historical record of solar cell activity. Scientists have extracted ice cores that provide solar activity registers that go back to remote historical times.
When we look at these ice cores, we can see the annual layering quite easily, so we can scan along the core looking for specific elements and counting layers as we go. To do this we can trace solar activity back in time thousands of years.
It has turned out that even though our high-tech free ancestors have never noticed, the solar storms have been far greater than anything we had prior knowledge about.  Man hit the earth in 660 BC (BC). Others emerged in 775 and 994 CE (AD).
Our vulnerability to bad solar behavior is now at an all time high, so the big question is when will the next supersized sun storm happen? Can it be predicted? How much warning do we get?
In Canada, we monitor the sun every day and have a comprehensive set of instruments that monitor the Earth's ionosphere and magnetic field.
We try to get a better understanding of the connection between what the sun comes up to and what the consequences will be on earth.
Working with international partners, our goal is to minimize what the sun can do in our modern, technology-based lifestyle.
This involves predicting hazardous solar activity, assessing its potential impacts and developing means to mitigate them, and where there is damage, make the recovery as soon as possible.
We solve these problems because we have to.
- Mars lies in the southwest after dark.
- Jupiter rises about 2 a.m.
- Saturn rises about 3 a.m.
- Venus is low in the daybreak.
- Moon Gets New on 5th