As the earth braces for its hottest year in a long time in 2013, researchers have discovered a new method to predict solar flares more than a day before they occur.
This will provide advance warning to help protect satellites, power grids and astronauts from dangerous radiation.
The system works by measuring differences in gamma radiation emitted when atoms in radioactive elements “decay,” or lose energy, Zee news reported.
The new detection technique is based on a hypothesis that radioactive decay rates are influenced by solar activity, possibly streams of subatomic particles called solar neutrinos.
The sun’s activity waxes and wanes on a roughly 11-year cycle. The sun is currently moving toward a period of peak activity, called the solar maximum, in mid-2013.
Data from the study, led by Prof Ephraim Fischbach and Prof Jere Jenkins of Purdue University, suggest that the rate of breakdown of radioactive materials changes in advance of solar flares.
They hope they can use this to develop a system that could predict when a potentially devastating geomagnetic storm might take place. This would allow authorities to adopt protective measures, such as shutting down satellites, at times of most risk, the BBC reported.
It is unclear how solar particles affect rates of radioactive decay, but Prof Jenkins asserts that “either neutrinos are affecting the decay rate or perhaps an unknown particle is”.