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Monday, November 29, 2021

Will a geomagnetic storm hit Earth tonight?

During a solar flare, highly charged particles are expelled from the Sun at high speeds. According to the US Space Weather Prediction Center, the coronal mass ejection departed the sun at a speed of 973 km/s and is predicted to arrive at Earth on October 30.

By: Science Desk | Kochi |
Updated: October 31, 2021 11:01:59 pm
Solar FlareSolar flares are the result of changes in magnetic fields on the sunspots that lead to a massive explosion (Source: NASA)

On October 28, around 9.05 pm IST, a solar flare was observed on the Sun. During a solar flare, highly charged particles are expelled from the Sun at high speeds.

Earth’s atmosphere protects us humans from these particles. But they can interact with Earth’s magnetic field, induce strong electric currents on the surface and affect man-made structures such as satellites, power grids, and even disrupt our internet connection.

Analysis by the US Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) showed that the coronal mass ejection departed the Sun at a speed of 973 km/s and is predicted to arrive at Earth on October 30 with effects likely to continue on October 31.

When these particles cause disturbances to Earth’s magnetosphere it is called a geomagnetic storm. The release from SWPC added that the impact of this storm to our technology would be nominal.

“It is difficult to gauge the full impact. We are expecting to see auroras. The injection of currents in the ionosphere are expected which will, in turn, induce fluctuations in Earth’s magnetic field,” explained Prof Dibyendu Nandi from the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research.

He added that there are chances of disruptions in navigational networks and global navigation satellite system receivers but “we expect the coronal mass ejection (expulsions of magnetised plasma from the sun’s corona) to have moderate speed so these chances are low.”

Prof Nandi is part of the Center of Excellence in Space Sciences India at IISER Kolkata which had predicted this solar flare.

This is an X1-class solar flare that occurred on October 28. The classification system for solar flares uses the letters A, B, C, M, and X.

“It is similar to magnitudes in the Richter scale used to quantify earthquakes. The X-1 class flare has a high magnitude of radiation, but the highest ever observed in the modern era is an X45 flare in 2003 (termed the Halloween storms),” explained Shravan Hanasoge, Associate Professor at the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.

The Halloween solar storm led to transformer malfunction and power loss in Sweden and caused multiple satellites to fail.

“We sometimes forget that we live with a star, and the complex phenomena that it exhibits can have serious impact on our lives. For instance, there was a superstorm in 2012 that narrowly missed directly hitting Earth. Estimates have suggested that if it had hit us, we could have suffered damage of trillions of dollars and taken decades to recover. Although directed towards Earth, the X1 storm of two days ago will have little to no impact on our infrastructure,” Prof. Hanasoge added.

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