The Sun is presently undergoing a sudden surge in activity, marked by a significant increase in the number of sunspots that are emitting plumes of hot plasma into space.
According to Newsweek citing a NASA model, Earth is anticipated to experience the repercussions of this heightened solar activity in the form of geomagnetic storms, potentially leading to radio blackouts.
What's occurring on the Sun's surface?
The Sun's surface is adorned with dark spots known as sunspots, characterized by intense magnetic fields. Over the past week, the quantity of these sunspots has surged tenfold, emitting numerous coronal mass ejections (CMEs) daily. Newsweek, referencing a NASA model, reports that one of these CMEs—expulsions of plasma clouds from the Sun's corona at high speeds—is projected to impact Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere on November 25. Additionally, the Sun may unleash solar flares, bright bursts of electromagnetic energy.
According to Spaceweather.com, the surge in sunspots commenced on November 18 when AR3490, the first sunspot group, appeared on the Sun's northeastern side. Subsequently, another sunspot group, AR3491, emerged and left a trail behind it.
Daniel Brown, an associate professor in astronomy and science communication at Nottingham Trent University, explained, "Solar flares and CME are both caused by the sun through its magnetic field being twisted and stressed through motions in the sun." He added that a solar flare involves the immense release of light triggered by the rearrangement of the Sun's magnetic fields, often accompanied by the release of a CME. The particles from a CME take a day or more to reach Earth, while the associated light and radiation reach us in just over 8 minutes.
Historical Instances of EMPs Caused by Solar Storms
The notion of a colossal solar storm wreaking havoc on electronic infrastructure globally may sound alarming, resembling a doomsday scenario often depicted in books, movies, and television. However, it's not mere fiction; solar storms have indeed resulted in disruptive EMP (electromagnetic pulse) interferences in the past. One of the most significant examples occurred less than 150 years ago during the Carrington Event.
Triggered by a solar flare and coronal mass ejection that directly struck Earth, historical records document the complete disruption of electrical infrastructures at the time due to the ensuing solar storm. The impact was widespread, and it took several days for humanity to recover. Ironically, the relatively rudimentary infrastructure of that era, primarily consisting of telegraph lines and equipment, minimized the disruptions, given that telegraph communication was still in its early stages. It's noteworthy that the use of electricity to power homes would not become widespread until several decades later.
This will affect the earth. How?
The particles from CMEs colliding with Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere can induce geomagnetic storms. During these storms, auroras—resulting from disturbances in Earth's magnetosphere caused by the solar wind—may intensify and become visible at lower altitudes.
According to Huw Morgan, the leader of the Solar Physics group at Aberystwyth University in the UK, when a substantial plasma storm erupts from the sun and carries a magnetic field oriented opposite to Earth's magnetic field, it creates what he refers to as a 'perfect storm.' This scenario leads to a more significant geomagnetic storm.
Geomagnetic Storms: The interaction of charged particles from a solar storm with Earth's magnetic field can give rise to geomagnetic storms. These phenomena result in fluctuations within Earth's magnetosphere, giving rise to vibrant auroras primarily visible near the polar regions.
Power Grid Disturbances: Electric currents induced by geomagnetic storms can affect power lines and transformers on Earth, potentially causing disturbances and damage to power grids in extreme cases. Temporary shutdowns of transformers may be necessary to prevent long-term harm.
Communication Disruptions: Solar storms can disrupt radio communication and navigation systems by causing signal absorption and interruptions. Geomagnetic storms, in particular, can lead to radio blackout conditions as high-frequency signals are absorbed in the Earth's ionosphere.
Satellite Operations: The heightened solar radiation during a solar storm can impact the operational efficiency of satellites in orbit. Increased atmospheric heating may result in augmented drag on satellites, affecting their orbits. Additionally, the elevated radiation levels can interfere with satellite electronics.
Aircraft Navigation: During geomagnetic storms, communication and navigation disruptions may occur, especially for high-latitude flights near polar regions. The interference with radio signals caused by charged particles in the ionosphere can pose challenges for aircraft navigation.
Pipeline Corrosion: Geomagnetic storms have the potential to induce electric currents in pipelines, leading to corrosion. This is particularly pertinent for lengthy pipelines spanning regions with varying magnetic field strengths.
Health Implications for Humans!
Although Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field shield us from the immediate effects of solar storms, individuals in specific situations, such as astronauts in space or passengers on high-altitude flights, may face heightened exposure to increased levels of radiation during these occurrences.
It is crucial to emphasize that the extent of these health impacts is contingent upon the intensity and attributes of the solar storm in question. To safeguard against potential effects on Earth's technological systems, space agencies and organizations globally diligently monitor the Sun's activity, offering early warnings and implementing measures to mitigate potential risks.
(Ref: Various sources)