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SOLAR STORMS AND THEIR IMPACT



  May 15, 2024

SOLAR STORMS AND THEIR IMPACT


 
Solar storms, while creating beautiful aurorae, have significant effects on Earth and space systems. Here is an explainer on solar storms, their causes, and their impact, with examples.

What are Solar Storms?

Solar storms are disturbances on the Sun's surface that release large amounts of energy and charged particles into space. These storms can include solar flares, coronal mass ejections (CMEs), and other energetic events.

1. Solar Flares: Sudden flashes of increased brightness on the Sun, usually observed near sunspots.

   - Example: Solar flares can disrupt radio communications on Earth.

2. Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs): Huge bursts of solar wind and magnetic fields rising above the solar corona or being released into space.

   - Example: CMEs can cause geomagnetic storms when they collide with Earth's magnetosphere.

How Do Solar Storms Affect Earth?

1. Aurorae:

   - Cause: When charged particles from the Sun interact with Earth's magnetic field, they can create vivid displays of light called aurorae.

   - Example: The recent aurorae visible over Hanle in Ladakh, India, were caused by a geomagnetic storm.

2. Power Grid Disruptions:

   - Cause: Geomagnetic storms can induce currents in power lines, causing voltage fluctuations and potentially damaging transformers.

   - Example: In 2003, a geomagnetic storm caused power outages in Sweden and South Africa.

3. Satellite Damage:

   - Cause: High-energy particles can damage satellite electronics and affect their operation.

   - Example: Satellites used for GPS navigation and communication can be knocked out or suffer reduced functionality during severe solar storms.

4. Astronaut Safety:

   - Cause: Increased radiation levels can endanger the lives of astronauts.

   - Example: Astronauts on the International Space Station need to take shelter in more shielded parts of the station during solar storms.

Why Are Solar Storms Studied?

Understanding and predicting solar storms are crucial for mitigating their impacts. Researchers aim to provide early warnings to protect technology and infrastructure.

1. Research Goals:

   - Predicting Solar Storms: Developing models to predict when and how solar storms will occur.

   - Example: Institutions like the Center of Excellence in Space Sciences India (CESSI) provide timely updates on space weather.

2. Monitoring the Sun:

   - Spacecraft: Satellites monitor the Sun from positions like the L1 point to observe solar activity in real-time.

   - Example: ISRO’s Aditya-L1 spacecraft is equipped with instruments to study the Sun and provide early warnings of solar storms.

Recent Solar Activity

1. Current Solar Cycle:

   - Peak Activity: The Sun is approaching the peak of its 11-year solar cycle, characterized by increased sunspot activity and more frequent solar storms.

   - Example: The geomagnetic storm on May 10, 2023, was caused by CMEs from sunspot AR 3664.

2. Aditya-L1 Observations:

   - Early Stages: The Aditya-L1 spacecraft, currently in the calibration phase, is expected to play a significant role in monitoring solar activity.

   - Example: Instruments on Aditya-L1 have already detected increases in alpha particle and proton flux, signatures of the solar storm.

Conclusion

Solar storms, while producing mesmerizing aurorae, can have severe effects on Earth’s infrastructure and space activities. Studying and predicting these storms are vital for protecting technology and ensuring the safety of astronauts. Institutions like CESSI and missions like Aditya-L1 are at the forefront of this crucial research.



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