Our sun has been discharging quite powerful solar flares over the past week, as it remains in the crest of its 11-year solar cycle. But just how disturbed should you be about the radioactive belch of the sun?
Solar Flares and CMEs
CMEs and Solar flares cause no direct threat to humans - the atmosphere of the Earth shields us from space weather radiation. (If a space traveler out in space is barraged with the high-energy particles coming from a CME, the space traveler could be severely injured or killed. But many of us won't have to bother about that situation.)
However, we could indirectly feel the effects of CMEs, through the disturbances to our technology - some of which could pose disastrous and lasting effects on civilization.
When Earth's magnetosphere is hit by a CME - the volume of space surrounding our planet affected by our magnetic field - if it is directed southward, it will greatly have an interaction with the northward-oriented magnetic field of the Earth.
Earth's Magnetic Field
When this takes place, Earth's magnetic field is "cut open like an onion letting energetic solar wind particles to flow down the field lines to strike the atmosphere over the poles," NASA explained.
NASA also added that at the surface of the earth a magnetic storm is sighted as a rapid drop in the magnetic field strength of the earth.
This decline lasts for approximately 6 to 12 hours, after which the magnetic field recovers slowly over a period of some days. The geomagnetic storm resulting from CME -magnetosphere interactions can bungle all types of technology that we depend on today.
Satellites that orbit higher in geosynchronous orbits - most of them communications satellites-are susceptible to geomagnetic storms, either due to the fact that high-energy particles can penetrate them or because the satellite could become increasingly charged, making discharging currents damage major components. Even more severe is the possibility for CMEs to damage electrical grids.
A geomagnetic storm manufacture electrical currents in conductive material on the ground, both through power lines, communication cables, and pipelines.
These large, currents which are geomagnetically induced can overload transformers causing general blackouts. Ironically, some of the reason high-voltage transformers are susceptible to geomagnetic storms is because of the measures we've taken to safeguard them from lightning strikes.
The ground link between the transformers that disperse those power streams also serves as a means for geomagnetically-induced currents.
Utility companies by fitting major critical transformers with electrical capacitors or resistors can guard against serious space weather -but with a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars for each transformer, they aren't rushing to install these protections voluntarily.
More advanced caution of future damaging CMEs on its way to Earth would give utility companies some more time to scale power generation back to make effort in mitigating the effects of geomagnetic currents.
Related Article: [UPDATE] Solar Storms: Are They Dangerous?
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