Atmosphere And Weather

How Earth is Affected by Solar Storms



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Solar storms and their effect on the planet

Auroras have occurred for centuries, but until recent technology was invented, no one really understood them; many cultures have often been mesmerized by them or terrified of them.  Sometimes in the past they were actually mistaken for a distant fire.  Today, people not only have a greater understanding of solar storms, but other types of storms as well and the Earth is facing another one soon and numerous rumors abound on the Internet regarding it’s coming, but what exactly are these rumors about?

It is known how storms affect the earth and human lives; from power blackouts and satellite failures to pipeline explosions, these storms make themselves felt; often causing expensive technological damage, as well as, lost work time.

Space years run by the 11-year sunspot cycle, e.g., the more sun spots there are, the more storms and greater solar winds or bursts of charged particles that are blown away from the face of the sun.  They also give off clouds of plasma, measuring in the tons and magnetic fields triggering magnetic storms on Earth.  Protons and electrons travelling as fast as light are the result of solar flares; their acceleration produces blasts of X-rays radiating out into space; disrupting short wave and other types of  communications here on Earth.

Termed, “Coronal Mass Ejections” (CME’s) they hit the Earth with a great impact in only a few days worth of time.  They can disrupt trapped particles in the “Van Allen Belts”, as well as, other places within the Earth’s magnetic field.  Their impact could cover a million or more miles.

An aurora is one of the first indicators that any change in space weather has occurred; as solar winds hit the Earth’s magnetic field the electrons and protons accelerate.  When they enter Earth’s atmosphere; they interact with atoms and oxygen and nitrogen molecules that produce energy as light with the end result being some amazing shapes and colors.

Other charged particles within the Earth’s magnetic field will circulate and can alter the geomagnetic field, causing the magnetic storms.  This is something like the, “Faraday effect”.  The physicist, Michael Faraday, discovered that taking a magnet and placing it near a wire will cause electrical current to flow through the wire.  This field included an equal bit of charge in the wire.

Historically, these storms have caused some rather expensive damage, even to whole cities.  They can disrupt whole electrical grids causing a huge loss of power and disrupting communications. 

In 1989, one of these storms caused an entire blackout in Quebec.  In 1972 a transformer at the “British Columbia Hydroelectric Authority”, was actually blown up by magnetic fields resulted in a huge spike and in 1989 a pipeline explosion destroyed part of the, “Transiberian Railway” - all effects resulting from solar storms.

Scientists today are warning that some serious problems could occur if there is a big enough solar storm; and that people have come to rely on technology so much that it’s a main part of life on the planet today.  Even farmers run their business with technology, sometimes out in the actual fields.

Satellites can be shorted out, disrupting communications among cell phones, televisions, computers, Wi-Fi, other wireless systems, GPS navigation and radio signals and more; transformers can be damaged, higher currents can run through power lines than can do some serious damage to power stations; whole cities may endure a blackout, as well as, damage to weather, radio, cell towers and much more.

Geomagnetic storms can even affect marine life and other animals that use magnetoception for their navigation; whales, dolphins, sea turtles, pigeons and other species are likely to endure difficulties because they utilize the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate around.

Due to the expected solar storm, the “National Aeronautics and Space Administration”, (NASA) has been working to better monitor solar activity.  It can take between 18 and 36 hours after one of these solar events, for the waves of particles hit Earth.  This period is adequate for most vulnerable systems to be shut down in time, but the shutdown could last up to 2 days. 

While technology can be a blessing in many ways; it can also be our undoing.  Even two days worth of time, in some business and homes is too long and a great deal of expense can be the result. 

Planes fly, cars are driven by computers these days and few people have a horse and buggy, with which to get around.  Not everyone bikes or lives within walking distance of their workplace and for some people; a 2-day shutdown of their workplace can mean whether or not they eat that week.  Humans must learn to respect the ways of the past and utilize them alongside of current technology if they are going to survive.

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More about this author: M. L. Kiser

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ARTICLE SOURCES AND CITATIONS
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.space.com/10893-major-solar-storm-earth-risks.html
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://spacemath.gsfc.nasa.gov/weekly/3Page7.pdf
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.wired.com/wiredscience/tag/magnetoreception/
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/