A new phenomenon is the latest concern for people associated with astronomy. A massive solar storm is to hit Earth on Sunday with a speed of 16 lakh km/h. One question remains on top of everyone’s mind – ‘Are we at danger?’ and if so, how bad can it be? For the unversed, a solar storm is a natural phenomenon where an eruption of mass and energy is unleashed from the surface of the sun. Think a massive nuclear explosion, and imagine it being a thousand times more powerful than that.
While the citizens on the small blue planet are currently dealing with health care crisis that came in the form of the COVID-19, a natural phenomenon has become somewhat of a concern for people who are involved in the space of astrophysics.
A ‘high-speed’ stream of solar fare is expected to hit our planet between July 11-12 (Sunday and Monday). A hole will open up in the Sun’s atmosphere and unleash a huge stream of solar wind in Earth’s direction. While the magnitude of the stream may be incomprehensible to a human mind, the speed of the stream will be over 16 lakhs km/h. As it’s less than the speed of light (close to 3 lakh km/s), it will reach us in its due time.
Earthlings will witness beautiful auroras at poles
One of the most fascinating outcomes of this solar storm is that it will create a beautiful spectacle in the sky. The storm is originated from Sun and thus, is expected to have a substantial impact on Earth’s EM-Field (electro-magnetic field). So, the lucky people, who reside in the northern and southern latitudes will witness auroras.
Can it have an adverse effect on our planet and its people?
While the prospect of witnessing an aurora may be a pleasant one for people, it should be noted that a solar storm can have adverse impact on certain aspects of humanity. When a solar stream reaches our planet, our earth’s protective layer will protect us from harmful radiation, but it can have a negative effect on satellites that orbit us.
Having an adverse effect on satellites mean that GPS navigation, mobile and satellite signals and other satellite dependent things will be vulnerable. Further, severe storms can also temporarily destroy power grids, and shower airline crews with some radiation.
However, this is rarely the case as the Earth’s EM field is a natural deterrent to that.
What does NASA say about Solar Storms?
According to NASA, the world’s foremost authoritative body on space related news and information-
“Modern society depends on a variety of technologies susceptible to the extremes of space weather. Strong electrical currents driven along the Earth’s surface during auroral events disrupt electric power grids and contribute to the corrosion of oil and gas pipelines. Changes in the ionosphere during geomagnetic storms interfere with high-frequency radio communications and Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation. During polar cap absorption events caused by solar protons, radio communications can be compromised for commercial airliners on transpolar crossing routes. Exposure of spacecraft to energetic particles during solar energetic particle events and radiation belt enhancements cause temporary operational anomalies, damage critical electronics, degrade solar arrays, and blind optical systems such as imagers and star trackers.”
Further NASA also adds-
“Human and robotic explorers across the solar system are also affected by solar activity. Research has shown, in a worst-case scenario, astronauts exposed to solar particle radiation can reach their permissible exposure limits within hours of the onset of an event. Surface-to-orbit and surface-to-surface communications are sensitive to space weather storms.”