Solar storm hits Earth’s magnetic field on July 21

The sun is at 13:32 on July 15, 2022, just as the thread that led to the solar flare begins to separate. Credit: Helioviewer

Something happens to the sun. One of the regions of the solar atmosphere currently displaying sunspots caught the attention of observatories on July 11, when there was a sudden increase in the brightness of ultraviolet and X-rays. The next communities to note were the radio amateur communities on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, When their communication was cut off for a while.

A solar flare – the emission of electromagnetic radiation and energetic particles found in a small region of the solar atmosphere – has just occurred. It is a region where the magnetic field is particularly strong and complex.

A solar flare is often preceded by a much stronger event. The same magnetic field that creates the flare’s twists beneath the surface of the Sun, pulls huge amounts of solar plasma out of the Sun and, like a cannonball, slams it at high speed into space. This is called coronal mass ejection.

In contrast to radiation from a flare, which reaches Earth at the speed of light in about eight minutes, a coronal mass ejection consists of charged particles that move more slowly. It can take anywhere from a few hours to several days for them to reach Earth’s orbit.

Several flares of moderate intensity continued during the past week. On July 15, one of them was accompanied by an amazing parcel. But this time, it’s headed toward Earth, and we expect it to hit us on July 21.

Solar storm hits Earth's magnetic field on July 21

Representation of the interaction of the solar wind with the Earth’s magnetosphere. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/NASA

History repeats itself

This isn’t the first time we’ve been in this situation. Although the physics of these phenomena is not yet fully understood, we are sure that they are magnetic in nature. And that their occurrence is not by chance: approximately every 11 years, our Sun goes through periods of high magnetic activity, called the Sun’s maximum.

During these extremes, the frequency of these events is particularly high. Now, we are entering the maximum of the current cycle, which is expected to peak in 2024.

The extent of a coronal mass ejection is usually accompanied by the aurora borealis. However, most global effects occur when they interact with the Earth’s magnetosphere: a kind of protective bubble that envelops the Earth. The strength of the Earth’s magnetic field is able to divert the charged particles released by the Sun (solar wind). The Earth’s magnetosphere, among other things, allows it to retain its atmosphere.

Upon contact with the parcel, the magnetosphere is compressed. Rapid changes in the Earth’s magnetic field produce electric currents wherever there are free electric charges (as in the ionosphere, one of the layers of our atmosphere). This then generates more complex magnetic fields which add to the Earth’s magnetic field.

This chaotic disturbance of the magnetic field is called a geomagnetic storm. It can, in turn, disrupt radio and satellite communications. In extreme cases, this can cause a power outage.

Solar storm hits Earth's magnetic field on July 21

Sunspots of September 1, 1859, drawn by RC Carrington. A and B indicate the initial positions of a very bright event, which, over the course of five minutes, moved to C and D before disappearing. Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Richard Carrington

Power outages and communication outages?

Currently, various space weather monitoring and forecasting services (such as NOAA, Space Weather, or SOHO) have published a G1 alert, which corresponds to minor geomagnetic storms, with possible slight fluctuations in the power grid and minimal impact on satellite operations.

We don’t have to worry, right?

The truth is that may not be the case. In September 1859, a geomagnetic storm caused by a coronal mass ejection caused telegraph networks in Europe and North America to fail. The Carrington event was named, after the astronomer who observed the glow, Richard Carrington.

The electric currents induced in the telegraph cables were so strong that they caused fires in the receivers. Some telegraph operators were electrocuted.

At that time we were saved by our limited reliance on electronic systems. Today we will not be so lucky: our high-tech society has a blind faith in the resilience of the communication networks on which our cell phones and computers depend.

So far, various state attempts to deal with such threats have been timid, uncoordinated and based on generalities. Our situation now is clearly fragile. And although the frequency of these phenomena is not expected to stop increasing in the coming years, it is still a very strange problem.

The question now is, will we have time to change our mind before the next Carrington event?


Strong solar flare erupting from the sun


Introduction of the conversation

This article has been republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.Conversation

the quote: Solar Storm Hitting Earth’s Magnetic Field on July 21 (2022, July 21) Retrieved on July 22, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-07-solar-storm-earth-magnetic-field.html

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