Solar activity may blot out London Olympics

Solar activity and magnetic storms could cause havoc with communication systems just around the time of the London Olympics in 2012, stargazers warn.

The sun's been a bit qiet lately, by all accounts, but it's gearing up for a massive surge in activity at around the same time as the London Olympics. Scientists say the sun will reach a peak in its 11-year cycle just about the time that the Olympic flame lights up Stratford in East London.

Solar flares erupting from the surface of the Sun can send billions of tonnes of electrically-charged matter towards the Earth and the coming peak in the cycle could generate solar explosions that could cause intense solar storms which could jam telecommunications satellites and internet pipes.

"The Sun is now waking up. The first significant active regions of a new solar activity cycle are forming. In the last two weeks, we have seen the first major flares of a new cycle," said Professor Richard Harrison, head of space physics at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire. "The Sun's activity has a strong influence on the Earth. Space weather can affect the whole population.

"The recipe is right, it's the beginning of a new cycle. The Olympics could be bang in the middle of the next solar maximum which could affect the transmissions of satellites," he said.

"A coronal mass ejection can carry a billion tonnes of solar material into space at over a million kilometres per hour. Such events can expose astronauts to deadly particle doses, can disable satellites, cause grid failures on Earth and disrupt communications," Professor Harrison said.

With a bit of luck it will knock out the Olympics good and proper.