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As reported in many UK newspapers this week, our sun is ramping up its solar activity right about now. The sun’s activity ebbs and flows over an 11 year cycle, which is going to peak sometime around 2013. What this means for those of us residing on planet Earth is an increase in solar flare and coronal mass ejection (CME) activity.
As the earth swims in the Sun’s ejected radiation, solar particles are caught up in Earth’s magnetic field and the gases in the atmosphere are excited, causing bursts of light commonly known as the Northern Lights. These lights aren’t just cool waves of multicolored light in the sky, though; the same solar effect can cause magnetic storms that can damage electronics and cause disruptions to devices like GPS units, radios, and mobile phones.
It’s very unlikely that we will see the northern lights as we are so far south, and it is also very unlikely that the sun increased activity will cause any problem for us, but it is possible. There is a very simply device that can help to protect your computer and other electronic equipment a surge protector or as it is called in France a Parafoudre or a Multiprise Parafoudre they typically cost from 10 to 40 euros.
The main job of a surge protector system is to protect electronic devices from "surges." A power surge is an increase in voltage significantly above the designated level in a flow of electricity. In normal household and office wiring in France, the standard voltage is 220 volts. If the voltage rises above 220 volts, there is a problem, and a surge protector helps to prevent that problem from destroying your computer.
The most likely cause of a power surge is probably lightning, though other common causes such as electrical and magnetic storms, large electrical appliances and large motors stopping and starting can cause significant surges. When lightning strikes near a power line or telephone line, whether it's underground, in a building or running along poles, the electrical energy can boost electrical power by millions of volts. This causes an extremely large power surge. In a lightning storm, you should never rely on your surge protector to save your computer, it’s a safeguard that help but its not 100% protection. The best protection is to unplug your computer.
Another device that is very useful especially in remote areas that have variable electrical power is a UPS or uninterruptable Power Supply. Do you see your light dim or flicker on a regular basis, does your computer suddenly switch off, then you could be in an area that has a variable electrical supply and might need the added benefits of a UPS.
The basic design of a continuous UPS is to store power on it’sinternal battery. The UPS then converts the battery's power back to mains power if the power goes out, your computer will continue to run, feeding off the stored battery power. This will give you a few minutes to save your work and shut down your computer. The conversion process also gets rid of most of the line noise coming from the AC outlet and acts as a surge protector. These units tend to cost 70 euros.
A Laptop computer does not need a UPS as it has its own built in Battery that will keep it running if the power fails, but it is a good idea to protect its power adapter with a surge protector. I am sure that if there is a large solar flare then we will get plenty of warning we are after all nearly 100 million miles away from the sun and it takes the suns energy many hours to travel that distance. Protecting your computer with a surge protector is recommended at any time, you can also make sure your backup are done regularly onto CD or DVD or USB memory key none of which will be affected by power surges or solar activity.