IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Geomagnetic Storm

20th February, 2023 Science and Technology

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  • A Geomagnetic Storm is on the way, which could potentially destroy electronics, cause power grid failures and more on Earth.
  • An X2-class solar flare erupted on a freshly formed sunspot AR3229 just days ago on February 17. This flare was hurled out in the Earth's direction by the Sun and has been travelling towards the planet.
  • Experts now expect this solar flare to reach Earth today and it could spark a dangerous Geomagnetic storm.

Solar storms/flares

  • About: Solar storms are magnetic plasma ejected at great speed from the solar surface.
  • Occurrence: They occur during the release of magnetic energy associated with sunspots (‘dark’ regions on the Sun that are cooler than the surrounding photosphere), and can last for a few minutes or hours.

To read more about the sun, visit: https://www.iasgyan.in/blogs/structure-of-the-sun

What is a sunspot?

It’s an area of intense magnetic activity on the surface of the Sun—a storm—that appears as an area of darkness.

Sunspots are indicative of solar activity, giving birth to solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs).

Sunspots have been continuously counted each day since 1838.

This has allowed solar scientists to describe a repeating pattern in the wax and wane of activity on the Sun’s surface—the solar cycle.


Impact of Solar Flares on Earth

Not all solar flares reach Earth, but solar flares/storms, solar energetic particles (SEPs), high-speed solar winds, and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that come close can impact space weather in near-Earth space and the upper atmosphere.

  • Space-dependent services:Solar storms can hit operations of space-dependent services like global positioning systems (GPS), radio, and satellite communications.
  • Radio communication:Geomagnetic storms interfere with high-frequency radio communications and GPS navigation systems.
  • Magnetosphere:CMEs, with ejectiles loaded with matter travelling at millions of miles an hour, can potentially create disturbances in the magnetosphere, the protective shield surrounding the Earth.
  • Astronauts:Astronauts on spacewalks face health risks from possible exposure to solar radiation outside the Earth’s protective atmosphere.
  • Other:Aircraft flights, power grids, and space exploration programmes are vulnerable.

Do you know?

A solar storm in March 1989 caused a nine-hour blackout Hydro-Québec's electricity transmission system in Canada.

Final Thought

  • With the increasing global dependence on satellites for almost every activity, there is a need for better space weather forecasts and more effective ways to protect satellites.