A “direct hit” may cause weak power grid fluctuations and a minor impact on communication satellites
By Kiran N. Kumar
The Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has forecast a solar storm to hit Earth between July 19 and July 21 that may cause weak power grid fluctuations and a minor impact on communication satellites.
Usually solar storms reach Earth in just 15 to 18 hours but this time it is slower and likely to reach days later.
The latest storm could have been caused by a cloud of particles ejected from “an unstable filament of magnetism” on the sun on July 15, according to solar physicist Tamitha Skov. She has tweeted a NASA prediction model stating that it could be a “direct hit” from a July 15 solar ejection with an impact date on July 19.
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Essentially, these geomagnetic storms change Earth’s magnetic field interacting with its atmosphere with charged particles from the sun and if they are strong, the impact could disrupt communication networks and the power grids.
However, NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) has forecast Tuesday’s storm as minor, that is far less to impact.
Solar radiation storms or coronal mass ejections (CMEs) associated by solar flare, accelerate charged particles in the solar atmosphere to very high velocities.
And the key particles are protons which can get accelerated to large fractions of the speed of light. At these velocities, the protons can traverse the 150 million km from sun to Earth in just tens of minutes to more than 18 hours.
When they reach Earth, they penetrate the magnetosphere that shields Earth and reach the magnetic field lines and the atmosphere near the north and south poles.
Read: Earth’s magnetic poles not to flip, assures new study (June 9, 2022)
NOAA measures Solar Radiation Storms using the Space Weather Scale on a scale from S1-S5. The scale is based on measurements of energetic protons taken by the GOES (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite Program) satellite in geosynchronous orbit.
It allows the assessment of multiple injections from flares and interplanetary shocks to be encompassed by a Solar Radiation Storm that can last for hours to days.
Solar Radiation Storms cause several impacts on satellites or humans in space. They can cause damage to electronic circuits or biological DNA. Higher levels of solar storms may expose passengers and crew in high flying aircraft at high latitudes to radiation risk.
When they collide with the atmosphere, they ionize the atoms and molecules thus creating free electrons, which form a layer near the bottom of the ionosphere that can absorb High Frequency (HF) radio waves disrupting radio communications.
The most significant solar storm recorded in history occurred in September 1859 and is called the “Carrington event” when telegraph machines reportedly shocked operators and caused small fires, besides triggering auroras visible in tropical areas. It was the first recorded solar flare that caused geomagnetic disturbances.
The latest solar storm that occurred in February 2022 was a mild one but led to the failure and reentry of 40 SpaceX Starlink satellites that had been launched in low Earth orbit.
The July 19 storm forecast being S1 (Minor Radiation Storm), it would be a minor one that required no warning.