Scientists today warned that a peak in the solar activity due in 2012 could disrupt television and internet networks during the London Olympic Games.

Speaking ahead of the launch of Nasa's Solar Dynamics Observatory next week, mission scientists said that the sun was due to hit a peak in its eleven-year cycle in 2012.

"The Olympics could be bang in the middle of a solar maximum," said Professor Richard Harrison, of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) in Oxfordshire and a co-investigator on the mission.

It has long been known that surges in solar activity can cause disruption in satellite and terrestrial communications systems, but until now it has been almost impossible to predict solar storms in advance.

Following the launch of Nasa's solar observatory next week, scientists say they will be able to give advance warning of magnetic storms and solar flares.

By turning off sensitive electronic circuits ahead of a storm, damage to satellite transmitters could be minimised.

"If we have advance warning, we'll be able to mitigate damage," said Professor Richard Holdaway, director of space science at RAL.

"What you don't want is things switching off for a week with no idea what's caused the problem."

The Nasa probe, which is scheduled for launch from Cape Canaveral on 6 February, will spend five years in orbit about the Earth investigating the causes of extreme activity, such as sun spots and solar winds and violent eruptions from the Sun's atmosphere known as Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs).

"Such events can expose astronauts to deadly particle doses, can disable satellites, cause power grid failures on Earth and disrupt communications," said Professor Harrison.

"The Sun's activity has a strong influence on the Earth. By studying solar activity, we hope to improve the prediction of solar storms and find new ways to protect technological systems here on Earth."

Following a figure-of-eight shaped orbit 22,300 miles above the Earth's surface, the observatory will measure fluctuations in the sun's ultraviolet output, map magnetic fields and collect images of the atmosphere.

The observatory will beam back images more than ten times the resolution of high definition television every 0.75 seconds.

The SDO is likely to transmit up to 50 times more data than any previous Nasa mission, according to project scientists. Each day, it will send a volume of data back to Earth equivalent to downloading 500,000 songs from the internet.

The launch comes just as the Sun appears to be stirring into a period of increased activity, following several years in a "deep minimum".

Between 2008 and 2009 there were more than 250 entirely 'spotless' days - a record low since 1913.

However, in the last two weeks two solar flares have developed, indicating the sun is likely to be entering a more active phase in its eleven year cycle.

"The launch is absolutely timely as the sun is just heading into a new cycle," said Professor Harrison.

The link between flare's in the sun's activity and magnetic disruption on Earth was first made in 1859, by the British amateur astronomer Richard Carrington.

Carrington detected an enormous group of sunspots. The following day skies all over Earth erupted in red, green, and purple auroras and telegraph networks were thrown into chaos.

The SDO could also help establish the degree to which solar activity such as sun spots effects the climate on Earth.

The relatively flat trend in global temperatures over the past decade - set against a century's worth of warming - has been in part attributed to the extreme minimum in solar flares, which effectively turns down the sun's wattage.

However, scientists are yet to place precise boundaries on how much of the variation in the Earth's climate can be explained by changes in the sun.