SpaceX satellite explodes during solar storm
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One of the most powerful forms of solar storm, a coronal mass ejection (CME) occurs when the Sun belches out a cloud of charged particles and electromagnetic fluctuations.
The CME passing close to Earth today was released into space three days ago by an erupting “filament” of tangled magnetic fields on the Sun’s surface. Initial predictions suggested that the incoming solar storm might spark a so-called G1 geomagnetic storm — the smallest — however, the US Space Weather Prediction Center has not issued a G1 warning.
The impact of the CME on the Earth is expected to be quite minimal.
Experts with spaceweather.com said: “A coronal mass ejection will pass close to Earth and might deliver a glancing blow to our planet’s magnetic field.
“Arctic sky watchers should be alert for a possible brightening of auroras when the CME arrives.”
The natural light shows of the aurora borealis and aurora australis are generated when particles from the solar wind excite atoms in Earth’s upper atmosphere, making them glow.
The aurora form curtains of light that follow the geomagnetic field lines — and appear in different colours depending on which atoms are being excited.
The two primary gases in the Earth’s atmosphere are oxygen, which emits a greenish light, and nitrogen, which appears in hues of blue, pink and purple.
A solar storm warning has been issued (Image: GETTY)
The CME was released three days ago by an erupting filament of magnetic fields on the Sun’s surface (Image: NASA)
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — of which the Space Weather Prediction Centre is a part — used the five-point G-scale to classify geomagnetic storms.
A G1 storm has the potential to have minor impacts on satellite operation and induce weak fluctuations in the power grid.
In contrast, G5 events — the most powerful — could severely impact satellite operations, cause surges that knock out power grids and disrupt high-frequency radio communications for days on end.
Fortunately, G5 solar storms typically only occur around four times in every 11-year solar cycle.
Coronal mass ejections occurs when the Sun belches out charged particles and magnetic fields (Image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)
Solar storm can boost the aurora — as seen in this ISS photo from 2010 (Image: NASA)
A coronal mass ejection in the September of 1859 caused the most powerful geomagnetic storm on record — one which scientists refer to as “the Carrington Event”.
The storm affected telegraph networks across Europe and North America, as well as the recently-lain transatlantic link that connected them.
Currents generated in cables by the space weather event reportedly caused telegraph pylons to spark, operators to receive electric shocks and some lines to fail completely.
Other connections, meanwhile, were found to still operate even once their power had been cut, so strong were the electrical currents induced by the storm.
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There is a 1.6–12 percent chance a severe solar storm will strike the earth in the next 10 years (Image: Express.co.uk)
According to a study presented at the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)’s SIGCOMM 2021 conference, a large solar storm like the Carrington Event could have the potential to cripple the Internet for weeks.
Unlike Victorian-era telegraph lines, the fibre optic cables that make up the backbone of the Internet are immune to the electromagnetic fluctuations caused by solar storms.
The same cannot be said, however, for the signal boosters that are dotted along undersea cables in order to maintain connections over long distances.
And being underwater, not only are these long-distance cables more vulnerable to the impacts of space weather, but they are also inherently harder to access for repairs.
Astrophysicists predict that there is a 1.6–12 percent chance a solar storm powerful enough to cause catastrophic disruption to modern society will strike the earth in the next 10 years.