What may well be the among most powerful solar maximums ever recorded will reach its height over the next 18 months, according to astronomers. Cycle 23 ?will be one of the largest on record, and compatible with the last two solar cycles,? according to an expert panel chaired by Jo Ann Joselyn of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The panel said that the maximum could peak at 190 sunspots sometime between June of 1999 and January of 2001. In March of 1958, the sunspot number reached 201, the highest ever recorded. In July of 1989, during the height of the last cycle, the number was 159.

During solar maximums, the sun ejects massive plasma storms known as coronal mass ejections that break through Earth?s magnetic fields. Charged particles in the storms can create arcing and shorts in sensitive electronic equipment, and chaotic magnetic fields generate currents in all sorts of conductors, making power grids especially vulnerable. The high temperature of the plasmas generally do not affect the earth?s surface.

A huge international wireless communications network dependent upon satellites and Y2K compliant to an unknown degree has grown up since the last solar maximum. This system is vulnerable both to Y2K and to solar storms, as are power grids around the world. For further information on solar storms, go to The Space Weather Bureau at Marshall Space Sciences Laboratory (www.SpaceWeather.com).

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