What are Solar Storms?

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : May 4, 2022, 8:39

Solar Storms radiate outward through the heliosphere, affecting the entire solar system, including the Earth and its magnetosphere, and can cause short-term space weather in long-term patterns, including cosmo-climatology. Solar Storms occur when the sun emits large bursts of coronal mass ejections and energy in the form of solar flares. This sends the flow of electric charge and magnetic field toward the earth at high speed. The Sun has reached its solar maximum and can cause several effects on Earth.

One of the effects is the production of "northern lights" found in the area around the Arctic Circle. The negative effects of Solar Storms are the interruption of satellites and other electronic communications, for example in July 2021, it was predicted that a massive solar storm would hit the Earth, and can GPS, the Internet, and communications satellites. Luckily, NASA reported on July 3rd, that a large solar storm passed through the Earth, causing little radio interference.

Types of Solar Storms

Solar Storms occur in the following types:

  1. Solar flares: A solar flare is a flash of light that suddenly increases the brightness of the sun and is usually observed near the surface of the sun and near sunspot clusters. Strong flares come along with coronal mass ejections. Even the strongest flares are almost undetectable at total solar irradiance (solar constant).
  2. Coronal Mass Ejections: Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) are significant emissions of plasma and associated magnetic fields from solar coronas. They come along with Solar Storms and are usually present during eruptions of the sun's uplift.
  3. Geomagnetic storms: Geomagnetic storms are temporary disturbances in the Earth's magnetosphere caused by the shock waves of the sun's wind and/or magnetic field clouds that interact with the Earth's magnetic field.
  4. Solar Particle Phenomenon: A solar particle phenomenon or a solar proton phenomenon (SPE) or a prompt proton phenomenon occurs when particles emitted from the sun (mainly protons) are accelerated near the sun or in interplanetary space by a coronal mass ejection impact.

Impact of Solar Storms

Solar Storms can have the following effects on the Earth:

  1. Very high energy particles, caused by coronal mass ejections, can lead to radiation toxication or poisoning in humans and animals.
  2. The Earth's magnetic field could get temporarily disrupted because of Solar Storms.
  3. Solar Storms can take satellites off course, misguide them and make them hit the surface of the earth, endangering many city centres.
  4. Some scientists speculate that animals like birds and bees that use magnetoreception for navigation may also be affected.
  5. Rapidly fluctuating geomagnetism can generate geomagnetic induced currents in the pipeline. This can cause some problems for plumbing engineers. Pipeline flow meters can send incorrect flow information and can dramatically increase the rate of corrosion in the pipeline.
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Important Facts About Solar Storms

  1. The fastest release of Solar Storms reaches Earth within 2 days
  2. Solar flares can be accompanied by huge bursts of energy called coronal mass ejections (CMEs), and matter that travels up to 1,000 kilometres per second.
  3. When the sun is at its maximum, the sun can produce over 100 solar flares each week during the 11-year cycle when its activity is at its peak.
  4. Almost as hot as the core of the sun, solar flare temperatures can be in the millions of Kelvin.
  5. Volcanic eruptions are inferior to Solar Storms. In just a few minutes, solar flares, believed to be caused by magnetic fields, can emit billions of tons of charged particles.

To conclude, we can safely say that Solar Storms are some of the most violent cosmic phenomena, next to things like supernovas, etc. The Auroras or the Nothern Lights are brilliant examples of solar flares that clash against the Ozone layer.

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FAQs on Solar Storms

Q.1. How dangerous are Solar Storms?

Although invisible and innocuous on the surface of the Earth, the geomagnetism emitted by Solar Storms cripples the power grid, disrupts radio communications, immerses flight crew members in dangerous levels of radiation, and exposes critical satellites.

Q.2. How do Solar Storms affect living things on Earth?

Fortunately, as of now, there hasn't been any such huge impact of Solar Storms witnessed on the planet. The Earth's atmosphere acts as a kind of protective shield that prevents cosmic rays from reaching the surface of the Earth. There may be measurable effects on the ground, but the amount of radiation is not very important.

Q.3. How did one of the 1989 Solar Storms affect Canada?

Solar Storms destroyed Quebec's (Canada) power grid in March 1989, which has been one of the largest on record.

Q.4. How much energy is released during Solar Storms?

Solar Storms can emit 10 million times more energy than volcanoes.

Q.5. How many Solar Storms can be seen in a day?

During peak times, you can witness around 20 Solar Storms a day.