Violent solar storms are generated closer to the earth, previously thought
Violent solar storms are created much closer to Earth than previously thought – so close to GPS and weather satellites, according to a new NASA study.
Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, used NASA data to show that storms occur when solar winds interact with the Earth’s magnetic field.
It is very difficult to detect these high-intensity bursts of magnetic energy due to the fact that intense storms are “very rare,” according to lead author Vassilis Angelopoulos.
He understands exactly how and where these storms can give us ‘critical minutes and hours’ to protect electricity networks against their impact.
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An illustration shows the Earth’s magnetosphere during a magnetic storm including satellites on the right of the photo in a geosynchronous orbit
The strength of a solar storm can vary dramatically from small with minimal impact to ‘the big’ that could disable the electricity grid.
They work in the same way as winds and storms on Earth – solar wind comes from the sun, works with the magnetosphere around the planet and generates magnetic storms with powerful electric currents.
A new study by the NASA THEMIS mission team is the first to show that such storms can occur much closer to the Earth than previously thought.
The satellites observed the origin of the storms about three to four Earth’s diameter away – that is about 23,752 miles or a tenth of the distance from the moon.
So close in fact that they overlap with the tracks of critical weather, communication and GPS satellites, says Professor Angelopoulos of UCLA.
A magnetic storm can be beautiful – it can produce the blinding northern lights that appear as colorful swirling effects in the atmosphere, normally closer to the poles.
They can also generate dangerous particles that fly in the direction of spacecraft and astronauts and take them out of service, Angelopoulos said.
Under certain circumstances, magnetic storms can disable the electricity grid, disrupt radio communication and corrode pipelines.
A particularly strong can make extreme aurora visible close to the equator.
There was a particularly dramatic illustration of the power of a magnetic storm in 1921 when it disrupted the telegraph communication network.
It also caused a power outage that burned a New York City train station to the ground.
Another storm in 1972 was closely missed by Apollo 16 and 17 astronauts. If it had hit them, it would have been fatal.
“These incidents underscore the potential dangers that need to be assessed as more people embark on orbit,” UCLA said in a statement.
If a similar storm were to occur today, a separate study could estimate that economic losses in the US due to power outages alone could exceed £ 30 billion ($ 40 billion) per day.
Brilliant aurora borealis is caught above Yukon, Canada, during a geomagnetic storm. They are made when solar wind interacts with the Earth’s atmosphere
The impact of a major storm in 1921 is the reason why researchers want to understand the sun and solar storms as much as possible.
This new discovery will ultimately help scientists refine predictive models of how the magnetosphere reacts to solar wind.
It can then take valuable extra hours or even days to prepare satellites, astronauts and the energy grid for the next ‘big’ one.
How electrical currents in space affect the aurora and magnetic storms has long been discussed in the space physics community, Angelopoulos said.
Because the storms are so rare and satellite coverage is scarce, it has been difficult for researchers to detect the dynamic process that drives them.
When magnetic solar wind is transferred to the magnetosphere, it builds up to be converted to heat and particle acceleration through a process called magnetic reconnection.
Recently, observations from a number of satellites have shown that magnetic storms can be initiated by magnetic reconnection very close to the earth.
Sun with corona showing the start of a solar storm. One day a huge solar storm will hit the earth and switch off the electricity grid
The researchers did not expect that they could be made so close, due to the relatively stable configuration of the magnetic field near the earth.
A weather satellite, closer to the Earth in a geostationary orbit, detected activated particles associated with magnetic storms.
This poses a danger to hundreds of satellites operating in that area of space.
Such particles can damage electronics and human DNA, increasing the risk of radiation poisoning and cancer for astronauts.
“By studying the magnetosphere, we increase our chances of dealing with the greatest danger to humanity venturing into space,” Angelopoulos said.
Some particles can even penetrate the atmosphere and affect airline passengers.
“Only with such direct measurements of magnetic reconnection and the resulting energy flows could we conclusively prove such an unexpected mechanism of storm energy generation,” Angelopoulos said.
“Capturing this rare event closer to Earth than has ever been discovered before forces us to review previous assumptions about the reconnection process.”
The findings are published in the journal Natural physics.
HOW DOES SPACE RADIATION AFFECT THE HEALTH OF ASTRONAUTS?
Astronauts traveling to Mars would probably be bombarded with 700 times the radiation levels experienced on Earth.
Even at the international space station ISS, astronauts are exposed to 200 times more radiation as a result of their work than a pilot or radiologist would experience.
As a result, NASA constantly monitors weather information about the local area.
If a burst of space radiation is detected, mission control in Houston, Texas, can instruct astronauts to break down space walks, orbit more shielded areas of the laboratory, and even adjust the height of the station to reduce any health effects. to minimize.
Solar flare activity can cause acute radiation exposure effects – such as changes in blood, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting – that can be restored and other non-reversible and / or fatal effects.
Long-term bombing is a greater concern.
This can increase the risk of cancer, cause cataracts and cause sterility.
It can also cause damage to the brain, central nervous system and heart, paving the way for various degenerative diseases.
DNA changes from space radiation can even be passed on to subsequent children.