Solar storm in progress: what it is and what the concrete effects are

Solar storm in progress: what it is and what the concrete effects are

A solar storm it is a natural event that occurs when the Sun emits a large amount of charged particles, mainly protons and electrons, along with electromagnetic radiation. This phenomenon is caused bymagnetic activity on the solar surface, in the form of coronal mass explosions (CMEs) or solar flares. Solar storms depend primarily on the Sun’s magnetic activity, which can vary over time in a long cycle about 11 years.

In this first half of May 2024 scientists have detected a progressive increase in size by two Sunspots, constantly kept under control. These are the named ones 13663 e 13664. The latter are directly responsible for the heavy electromagnetic phenomena that are affecting our planet.

What are sunspots and what is their role

Sunspots are cooler, darker regions of the Sun’s surface, caused by intense magnetic fields which inhibit convection and reduce the local temperature.

They represent a problem because they are often associated with solar flares, violent explosions on the surface of the Sun that release enormous amounts of energy and matter into space. These eruptions can generate dangerous radiation such as X-rays and high-energy particles that can interfere with communications, damage satellites and affect power grids on Earth.

Another direct effect consists, as mentioned at the beginning, in the emission of coronal mass: enormous quantities of ionized gas are expelled into space. When these CMEs are directed towards Earth, they can cause geomagnetic disturbances and solar storms that significantly affect our activities.

Magnetic fields associated with sunspots can cause variations in the Earth’s magnetic field. The disturbances caused can affect the functioning of electrical networks, cause interference in communication and navigation systems, and damage sensitive electronic devices.

The effects of solar storms on Earth

If we exclude the 2003 surveys (Halloween solar storms) and the Carrington event (1859), that of May 2024 will go down in the annals as the most violent solar storm ever.

The X-class eruptions recorded in recent days have already produced X-ray and UV radiation, as well as emissions of coronal gases directed towards Earth. They also triggered the Deling phenomenonnegatively impacting shortwave communications.

Technicians from various laboratories have detected the increase in high energy protons in the geostationary belt as well as a solar wind with a maximum speed of approximately 1000 km/s and a magnetic intensity of 72 nT.

Il solar wind it consists of charged particles, mainly protons and electrons, which are constantly emitted by the Sun and spread throughout interplanetary space. These particles travel at high speeds and bring with them a magnetic field, known as “solar wind magnetic intensity.”

Northern Lights at much lower latitudes, even in Europe

The Northern Lights and austral are luminous phenomena that occur in Earth’s polar regions when charged particles coming from the solar wind interact with the Earth’s magnetosphere and penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere along magnetic field lines. During solar storms or large-scale solar flares, the amount and energy of charged particles emitted by the Sun can increase dramatically. Increasing the intensity of the solar wind can lead to greater penetration of charged particles into the Earth’s magnetosphere and atmosphere.

During solar storms, the Northern and Southern Lights can be observed at much lower latitudes compared to the usual ones. This is because increasing the energy of charged particles and increasing their penetration into the magnetosphere can cause auroras to be stronger and wider.

Effects of the solar storm on orbiting satellites

Solar storms can have various effects on satellites in orbit around the Earth. Increased solar activity can cause an increase in atmospheric density in Earth’s thermosphere, accelerating the orbital degradation of satellites and reducing their operational lifetime.

Charged particles emitted during solar storms can cause electronic interference on sensitive electronic components of satellites, including communications circuits, navigation systems and sensors. This can cause temporary malfunctions or permanent satellites and can affect the quality of communications and data transmitted. Starlink has already confirmed a momentary performance degradation during these days of solar storm.

“Anomalous” solar radiation can also lead to damage to solar panels of satellites, reducing their ability to generate energy, and affecting the correct functioning of navigation systems such as GPS.

A concrete case: GPS devices used in agriculture no longer work

The powerful solar storm unleashed its electromagnetic fury, wreaking havoc on Earth’s magnetic field. An obvious case are i malfunctions of GPS systemsreported especially in agriculture, in many areas of the world.

John Deerea leading name in the agricultural machinery sector, has warned its customers of the serious repercussions of the solar storm regarding the functioning of the equipment mounted on the well-known company’s tractors.

As 404 Media reports, many companies active in the agricultural field that depend on the precision of GPS-guided systems have been forced to interrupt sowing operations. Solar storm-induced disruptions compromised the accuracy of GPS systems and Real-Time Kinematic (RTK), essential for tasks ranging from planting, plowing fields and applying fertilizers and herbicides.

In short, “precision agriculture” has found itself vulnerable to the “whims” of our star, losing that “centimeter accuracy” which has so far proved essential. A significant competitive advantage for many companies in the sector.

Blackout risks: why?

The GIC (Geomagnetically Induced Currents) I am electric currents which can develop in the Earth’s subsurface, following a chain of physical events triggered as a consequence of the solar coronal mass ejection.

During a strong solar storm, it may happen that the solar magnetic field, meeting the Earth’s, manages to “cancel” it. In these particular conditions, it happens that the lines of force of the magnetic field Earth opens, with the disappearance of the protective effect normally exerted by our magnetosphere.

The particles transported by the solar wind can thus penetrate the magnetosphere and strengthen the current systems present around the Earth. The consequences are more or less relevant variations in the magnetic field generated by these currents, which in turn induces other electric currents on the earth’s surface, called GIC.

GICs propagate in the soil, concentrating where they can flow more easily (greater electrical conductivity). The diffusion is therefore concentrated along long metal structures such as energy distribution systems, oil and gas pipelines and railway networks, explains Roberta Tozzi, INGV researcher (National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology).

Tozzi recalled the event that occurred in 1989 in Canada (Quebec region) when the GICs caused a electrical blackout lasted several days.

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