The term ‘solar storm’ seems like a contradiction, does it not? However, solar storms are geological forces that pose large threats to all items in their paths. In previous years, people did not have any method of measuring the effects of these types of storms. Fortunately, sensitive electronic devices are now able to help measure the destructive forms of these storms.
While the storms do not physically throw anything at the Earth, the UN does recognize a solar storm as an item that requires geographical concern. In fact, they have been noted as being as dangerous as orbital debris and asteroids. The one major feature that makes solar storms highly dangerous is that they are technically invisible.
What Is A Solar Storm Exactly?
Simply put, a solar storm occurs when the sun or a sunspot on the sun ‘burns’ out. The sunspot reforms as a giant gas cloud and the particles in this area will become charged associating with magnetic properties known as coronal mass ejections or CMEs. Once this cloud meets the magnetic field of the Earth, the result can be detrimental with physical communications being disrupted including power lines, radars, cell phones, telephone cables, and GPS receivers.
One of the most powerful types of solar storms is the X-class solar flare. This type of solar storm is one that is highly threatening to disruption of telecommunication on the Earth’s grid. Recently, an X-2 class solar flare – a solar flare that is twice as powerful as an X-1 class flare) erupted and damaged a telecommunication grid in the close area. This recent flare was one of the most substantially damaging flares experienced since the 19th of October, 2014.
What Types Of Solar Storms Have Been Experienced In Past Years?
According to records, the greatest solar storm experienced is the Carrington Event. This solar storm occurred in 1859 and was unidentified due to the lack of technological measures. Scientists indicate that the storm was an X-2 class and was twice as large as any other flare as recorded for the past 500 years.
If we quickly fast-forward to today when we have technology to assist with identification and measuring of solar storms.
A solar storm was experienced in 1989 in Canada and New Jersey. The flare affected approximately 6 million people through the damage of the Hydro Quebec electric power transmission generating station.
In 2000, satellites were short-circuited by an X-5 class solar flare on Bastille Day. The flare resulted in radio blackouts. It was shortly followed by an X-28 class storm in 2003, which is recorded as being the strongest solar flare ever experienced. This flare in 2003 disrupted the spacecraft sensor used to measure its effect; therefore, the extent of its overall impact is unknown.
In 2006, a solar flare disrupted the satellite-to-ground communications within the NASA communication system. It negatively affects NASA’s global positioning system and disrupted the navigation signals for a recorded ten minutes.
Two years later, the most powerful solar flare was narrowly avoided. It was seen that Earth was only one week out of the line of fire.
What Damage Could Occur In The Future?
As the sun moves through its 11-year activity cycle, it is possible that more powerful solar storms could be experienced by the Earth. The impact of these flares can include rerouting of airplane flights resulting in damage to GPS systems and oil drill heads going haywire. Energy transformers could be damaged and power grids disrupted.
The smaller scale results of a solar flare could include disruption of communication systems and any items that require GPS for control. However, imagine all these items being non-functional at the same time – chaos. So are you ready?