On Wednesday, 14 July 2021, earth was enveloped by dense solar wind. According to NOAA, this solar event was not particularly powerful on solar scale. Solar geomagnetic solar storms are characterized by K-index. This solar storm passed by the earth with a K-index 4, indicating minor disturbance. Earth’s atmosphere and magnetosphere saves earth from these solar storms if they’re not too huge.
What is a solar storm and how it does affect the earth?
Large amounts of plasma and magnetic field erupt from the surface of our star, the Sun. These ejections are called coronal mass ejections CMEs (solar storms on the sun) and they can erupt in any direction e.g. towards earth and then travelling into our direction it can hit earth and has impact. CMEs can travel towards earth at a speed of 9 million km/h. These solar winds don’t significantly damage anything on earth’s surface because we’re protected by our atmosphere and then the earth’s magnetic field. Earth’s magnetic field deflects the plasma to the north and the south poles where they can create beautiful auroras. While these winds even if they’re weak, they can damage satellites and affect the radio communications.
Solar super storms can happen once or twice every century, as chances of a super solar storm are 50-50 in every 50 years. In 2014, Pete Riley, a known Physicist predicted the odds of a Carrington-sized solar storm hitting the earth in next 10 years are around 12%. It can violently compress the earth’s magnetic field or in worst case scenario, it can align with the earth’s magnetic field and the two fields can merge causing a solar geomagnetic storm. The electric currents produced by this geomagnetic storm can either completely shut our power systems down or in worst case burn our power stations. Although it is not easy to estimate the total loss until we experience such a storm. The Carrington Event was such a powerful geomagnetic solar storm in 1859. A CME hit the earth inducing a record largest geomagnetic storm known to us. It destroyed the telegraph system and telegraph operators felt the shocks.
If such a major solar storm (as strong as Carrington event) hits the earth today, it can cripple our energy grid systems. The waves of solar storm can snap the earth’s magnetic field and randomly induce electric currents. Today in modern technological era, it can disrupt our most important telecommunication technologies i.e. satellite and cell phone communications. In 1989 Quebec experienced a power loss for 9 hours due to a solar flare. In 2003 it caused airplanes re-routes, shutting down the space instruments and a power blackout in Sweden for almost an hour.
A powerful solar storm can damage the electronics in satellite, navigation and communication as it would damage GPS. This huge magnetic field can definitely cause internet to go out. Geomagnetic storms can cause EMPs (electromagnetic pulses). EMPs can cause sudden voltage surges due to magnetic field producing electric current. This can damage electronic gadgets, power stations and even the vehicle engines.
While there is not much we can do out solar storms, we can take steps to minimize the damage. Scientists have few hours to days to see it coming. NOAA has 24/7 surveillance on the sun. Once a solar flare erupts, the following steps can be taken immediately to prevent the damage.
- Warning the airlines, space-satellite operators, power companies and then the public.
- Unplugging the electric gadgets.
- Short power blackouts to save our power systems.
These steps need to be taken globally.
The users can prepare themselves by keeping themselves informed about the risk and if there is a warning they can power out electronic gadgets or in case of a very strong geomagnetic solar storm they can prepare their own Faraday cage. Faraday cage can block external electric field, Electromagnetic radiations and also blocks the phone and GPS signals.
As digital technology and electrical grids have spread, scientists have found that violent solar storms pose a threat on the scale of hurricanes. Solar Superstorms: Journey to the Center of the Sun by Thomas Lucas.
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