Solar storm: what is it, effects on technology and humans

Solar storm: what is it, effects on technology and humans

Maybe you've seen on the news that a strong geomagnetic storm is expected in the coming days. Technology might not work, radio communications might be interrupted, and whole cities might stay without power for some time. All of this can occur because of the solar storm happening during these days on the Sun. In this article, we dig more into the concept of a solar storm and its effects on humans and technology on Earth.

What is a solar storm, and why does it happen?

Did you know that in March 2022, there were 146 solar flares? During this period, stunning auroras were observed in more distant locations than usual, shortwave radio communications on ships and planes flying over the poles were disrupted, and several satellites lost their orientation for a while. It sounds like a plot of a disaster movie, but it isn't. So why does this happen?

Once in a while, Sun erases intense bursts of energy and radiation in the form of a blast of plasma called coronal mass ejection (CME), or solar flare that causes solar storms often affect Earth. This happens because of the spots that appear on the Sun from time to time, related to solar activity, whose frequency changes every 11 years. 

solar storm
© Wikipedia

A new sunspot called AR3058 showed up on the Sun recently and caused a powerful M-class solar flare and coronal mass ejection. Because of this, a massive amount of solar particles were sent to Earth, affecting Earth's magnetic field and causing geomagnetic storms. 

Tamihta Skov, the scientist of the nonprofit American organization Aerospace Corporation, showed a video on her Twitter created from images of NASA spacecraft exploring the Sun. On it, you can see what's happening with the Sun right now: 

To go deeper into the subject, it is necessary to understand that there are five classes of solar storms: A, B, C, M, and X. The most powerful ones are X-rated and the least – A-rated. The one we are experiencing now is classified as M, which is almost as bad as X, though a little less powerful. According to scientists, this solar flare has the number 2.9. To realize its power, you need to understand its numeric scale: each flare class is measured on a scale from 1 to 9, so this one is still not that strong. At the same time, the geomagnetic storm on Earth that this flare causes will reach level G2 or G3 out of G5, according to Tamitha Skov. 

NASA predicts that solar particles that reach Earth on July 19 and trigger a geomagnetic storm of moderate strength can continue through July 20 and 21. It can badly affect technology on Earth and deactivate power plants, transmission lines, and GPS, causing disruptions in our planet's major radio and electronic communications.

Why and how do solar storms affect technology?

Photons from a flare reach us in 8.5 minutes, powerful streams of charged particles arrive within an hour, and plasma clouds get to our planet in two to three days. Most solar storms bring Earth geomagnetic storms and global outages disruptions

Because of the serious changes in the Earth's magnetic field, electronic and radio devices are severely affected during a solar storm. It can lead to health and economic crises, food and supply shortages, and more. To weather-dependent people, geomagnetic storms give headaches. The good news for nature lovers – you might see auroras of unbelievable beauty these days. 

How to protect Earth against solar storms?

Many professionals worldwide are already working on how to protect our planet from solar storms. Some organizations are building capacitor banks that would absorb and disperse excess energy. Flywheels are getting constructed to drain excess energy from the grid by changing the spinning speed.

Despite using different solutions, we still need to be always prepared. The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) provides essential data about solar bursts' timing and speed. With good preparation and warning, power systems can be switched off or reduced to avoid breakdowns and lower the risks of overload.

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