Powerful Solar Storm Approaching Earth: Potential Radio Blackouts and Northern Lights

Powerful Solar Storm Approaching Earth: Potential Radio Blackouts and Northern Lights

A powerful stream of energised particles, known as a solar storm, is approaching Earth, potentially causing radio blackouts and the mesmerising aurora borealis, or northern lights. Solar storms are significant space weather events that can disrupt various means of communication systems and technical instruments on our planet.

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Origin of the Solar Storm

According to NASA’s spaceweather.com, the storm originated from the sunspot AR3664 on May 27. This event was classified as an X2.8 solar flare, one of the most intense solar flares in recent years. As described by NASA, x-class solar flares are the strongest, “giant explosions on the sun that send energy, light, and high-speed particles into space.”


Immediate Effects on Earth

Our planet is already experiencing interruptions in shortwave radio due to solar storms. Luckily, the coronal mass ejection (CME) from the latest eruption will not impact our planet directly. A CME involves a large explosion of plasma and magnetic fields from the sun, which can severely affect Earth if directed towards it.



Understanding Solar Storms

A solar storm travels towards Earth at the speed of light, ionising the top layer of our atmosphere upon arrival. This ionisation creates a denser environment for high-frequency shortwave radio signals, which are crucial for long-distance communication. When these charged particles collapse with the atmospheric particles, electrons collide more frequently with radio waves, leading to signal degradation or complete loss.


How do Solar storms impact Earth?

Solar storms can generate and induce geomagnetically induced current (GICs) to many electrical systems that are overloaded; it leads to voltage regulation problems, large-scale power outages and transformer damage. These storms mainly affect satellite networks and communication systems and adversely influence many services like weather forecasting, GPS navigation communication and other satellite-based services. Besides, fierce solar storms can adversely affect human health, mainly those who work in airlines and passengers. Flights at higher altitudes have more impact on solar flares and other cosmic radiation due to the distance from the Earth. 


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Potential Future Threats

There is growing concern among scientists about sunspot AR3664, which is expected to face Earth again around June 6. Future eruptions from this sunspot could generate another series of geomagnetic storms, likely to impact the Earth. Earlier this month, this active region produced 12 X-class solar flares over six days, activating successive Earth-directed CMEs and resulting in a G5 geomagnetic storm, the first since 2003.



Recent Solar Activity

On May 14, the active region produced the largest solar flare since September 2017, an X8.79-class flare, before rotating behind the sun’s western edge. Two weeks later, this active region reappeared on the sun’s eastern edge. Although historically, active regions receive a new number upon reappearance, continuous X-ray observations from the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter have allowed scientists to track AR3664 (now renamed AR3697) throughout its transit across the sun’s backside.


Monitoring and Future Predictions

The sun has an average rotation period of 27 days, giving Earth a view of a given active region for about two weeks before it rotates out of view. With AR3697’s reappearance, scientists can begin to assess whether the recent quiet trend in solar activity will continue or if we can expect more significant events.



Conclusion: Preparing for Solar Storms

Solar storms are a natural part of space weather that can have profound effects on Earth’s technology and communication systems. While the latest CME will not impact Earth, the scientific community remains vigilant, monitoring sunspot AR3697 closely. Understanding and preparing for these events is crucial to mitigate potential disruptions in the future. By staying informed and relying on continuous observations from space agencies, we can better predict and respond to the dynamic and powerful phenomena emanating from our closest star, the sun.


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