Earth was struck by an unexpected proton storm from the sun on Thursday, August 16. The proton count around our planet rose to 1000 times normal. Scientists were taken by surprise, both by the storm itself and by the speed with which it reached earth.

Normally, proton storms that reach earth come from the side of the sun facing our planet, and are the result of explosions from sunspots. However, no such explosion took place this time. It is believed that a sunspot on the far side of the sun must have exploded, but holographic imagery showing the far side of the sun was insufficient to record the explosion.

It is also strange that the proton storm would have reached earth, instead of moving off into space in the opposite direction, given that it must have been emitted by the far side of the sun.

Recent months have seen one of the most intense solar maximums ever recorded during the sun’s normal eleven year activity cycle. The sun’s poles flipped in February, and it was expected that the solar max would subside after that. However, in April the largest solar flare ever recorded took place, and intense sunspot activity continued through June.

This latest event may perhaps prove more understandable as the side of the sun now invisible to our satellites appears again over the next few weeks, and the area that emitted the proton storm can be identified and studied.

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