The wave of solar storms that has pounded Earth over the past several weeks is only likely to get worse over the next year, according to a NASA scientist.
Sunspot 1429, the active region of the sun responsible for the flares, has been getting larger over the past several weeks, making it less stable and more likely for additional flares to erupt, which can cause damage to GPS satellites and electronic systems on our planet. NASA reported that the sunspot is now more than seven times the width of earth.
"The larger [the active region] is, the more likely it's going to produce another big flare," Phillip Chamberlin, deputy project scientist for the Solar Dynamics Observatory says. "It's growing, and it's becoming more dynamic, building energy."
Over the weekend, two large flares erupted from the region. NASA says the wind and energy particles associated with the flare, began to affect Earth Monday. The region is dangerous for a couple more days, before the sun's rotation points the area away from Earth. .
"For a couple more days, it could potentially produce more flares. It may, it may not," Chamberlin says. "That's the holy grail of what we're trying to figure out—how to predict solar flares."
Even if earth dodges this region's bullet, space weather forecasters are sure of one thing—the solar storm season is just getting started, and will likely worsen in the coming months. The sun's solar cycle, which operates in 11 year increments, is beginning to enter its most active period, and is set to be at its worst in the second half of 2013, Chamberlin says.
"There are more flares, larger flares every 11 years," he says. "It's expected to peak in late 2013."
That could spell bad news for industries that rely on GPS and other satellite-based systems. Solar storms can damage those satellites, disrupting air traffic controls.
An "extreme" solar storm, which hasn't hit earth since the 1800s, could interrupt power grids, and permanently damage electronics, potentially causing trillions of dollars worth of damage.