Science

A solar storm could unleash 1.8 million mph solar winds on Earth TOMORROW

A solar storm could unleash 1.8 million mph solar winds on Earth TOMORROW

A canyon-like cavity in the sun’s atmosphere known as a coronal hole will launch a solar storm towards our planet tomorrow.

According to experts, the solar wind – a continuous stream of charged particles – could be emitted from the hole and hurtle toward Earth at incredible speeds of up to 1.8 million miles per hour.

Worryingly, the solar storm could cause power grid fluctuations and spacecraft orientation irregularities in the form of ‘increased drag’ in low orbiters.

The aurora borealis – also known as the Northern Lights – could also be visible in the north of the UK.

Coronal holes appear as dark spots in ultraviolet images of the sun. Pictured, the sun today with a sun hole near the equator

According to Live Space Weatherthe hole was discovered on Monday, November 28, and the resulting storm could reach Earth on December 1.

What are coronal holes?

Our Sun is constantly spewing hot gases from its surface, a steady stream of particles – mostly protons and electrons – known as the solar wind.

The solar wind flows particularly strongly from the sun through coronal holes.

Normally, magnetic field lines on the Sun’s surface form closed loops that trap gases.

Coronal holes are places where magnetic field lines do not close in on themselves, but protrude straight into space.

This leaves an open channel through which the solar wind can blow freely.

Coronal holes create a strong solar wind. For example, the solar wind normally leaves the Sun at about 900,000 miles per hour, but the solar wind passing through the center of a coronal hole travels much faster, up to 1.8 million miles per hour.

When these solar wind particles reach Earth – which takes two to four days, depending on their speed – modest geomagnetic storms can form.

High-speed wind gusts can also disrupt satellites in Earth’s orbit.

Coronal holes appear as dark spots in ultraviolet images of the sun.

Source: Exploratorium

It said the transequatorial coronal hole – the one that goes across the Sun’s equator – was “detected in an Earth-facing position”.

Spaceweather.com has rated the solar storm a ‘G1’ (on a scale of one to five), so it’s considered fairly minor, although it could still cause power grid fluctuations and problems for satellites.

“Gaseous material flows from a canyon-like hole in the sun’s atmosphere,” it says.

A solar storm, also known as a geomagnetic storm, is a disturbance on the Sun.

When a solar storm hits us, some of the energy and small particles can travel down the magnetic field lines at the north and south poles into Earth’s atmosphere.

There, particles interact with gases in our atmosphere, resulting in beautiful displays of light in the sky, known as auroras.

Oxygen gives off green and red light, while nitrogen glows blue and violet.

In the north of the Earth, the auroras are officially known as the aurora borealis or the Northern Lights, while in the south the event is called the aurora australis.

The British Met Office said the aurora was concentrated around the North Pole throughout this week.

“There remains a slight chance of a visible aurora over the far north of Scotland where skies are clear,” it said.

A Met Office spokesman also told MailOnline that the aurora from the storm could be seen in the north of Scotland, weather permitting.

The solar wind is constant, so auroras are often visible in parts of northern Europe such as Norway and Iceland.

But at some points in the sun’s 11-year cycle, more intense solar storms emit solar winds that bombard our planet, making the aurora brighter and more frequent – meaning people in the UK have a better chance of seeing it.

Coronal holes are a typical feature of the Sun, although they appear in different places and with greater frequency at different times of the solar activity cycle.

These holes are regions of the corona where the magnetic field reaches into space instead of coming down to the surface.

Particles moving along those magnetic fields can leave the sun instead of being trapped near the surface. These trapped particles can heat up and glow.

In the parts of the corona where the particles leave the sun, the glow is much weaker, and the coronal hole appears dark in ultraviolet images.

The aurora - a display of natural light in Earth's sky - could also be visible in the north of the UK.  Pictured, the northern lights, also called the aurora borealis, as seen in the sky above Tromsø, Norway on November 2, 2022.

The aurora – a display of natural light in Earth’s sky – could also be visible in the north of the UK. Pictured, the northern lights, also called the aurora borealis, as seen in the sky above Tromsø, Norway on November 2, 2022.

Damage caused by solar storms

Solar flares can damage satellites and have huge financial costs.

Charged particles can also threaten airlines by disrupting the Earth’s magnetic field.

Very large flares can even create currents within power grids and disrupt power supplies.

When coronal mass ejections hit Earth, they cause geomagnetic storms and enhanced aurora.

They can disrupt radio waves, GPS coordinates and overload electrical systems.

A large influx of energy could flow into high-voltage electrical networks and permanently damage transformers.

This could shut down businesses and homes around the world.

Solar storms can also be the result of a coronal mass ejection (CME) – a massive ejection of plasma from the sun’s corona (its outermost layer).

As well as CMEs, such solar events include solar flares – explosions on the Sun that occur when energy stored in ‘twisted’ magnetic fields is released.

NASA explains: ‘There are many types of eruptions on the Sun. Solar flares and coronal mass ejections involve gigantic bursts of energy, but are otherwise quite different.

‘The two phenomena sometimes happen at the same time – indeed, the strongest flares are almost always associated with coronal mass ejections – but they emit different things, look and travel differently, and have different effects near planets.’

Particles from solar events can travel millions of miles, and some can eventually collide with Earth.

According to the Royal Museums Greenwich, most of the particles are repelled, but some become trapped in the Earth’s magnetic field.

They are accelerated toward the north and south poles into the atmosphere, which is why the aurora is best seen closer to the magnetic poles.

‘These particles then slam into atoms and molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere and essentially heat them up,’ said Royal Observatory astronomer Tom Kerss.

‘We call this physical process excitation, but it is very similar to heating a gas and making it glow.’

Solar storms are not dangerous for people on the surface of the Earth, but they can cause interference with electrical grids and GPS signals.

In 1859, a massive geomagnetic super-storm known as the Carrington Event sent powerful CMEs towards Earth, disrupting communications on Earth.

Aurora over Mount Ingolfsfjall near Selfoss on the south coast of Iceland on November 28, 2022.

Aurora over Mount Ingolfsfjall near Selfoss on the south coast of Iceland on November 28, 2022.

If such an event were to occur in today’s world, the consequences would be catastrophic for our communication systems.

A Study from 2021 A University of California Irvine scientist has found that the Internet could be crippled for weeks after a severe solar storm, due to vulnerabilities in the world’s vast network of undersea communication cables.

Electromagnetic fluctuations caused by intense solar storms cannot directly harm the fiber optic cables that form the backbone of the Internet.

However, they have the potential to eliminate signal boosters deployed along submarine cables that are necessary to maintain connections over long distances.

According to astrophysicists, the probability of a solar storm capable of causing catastrophic disruption in the next 10 years is between 1.6-12 percent.

SOLAR STORMS PRESENT A CLEAR DANGER TO ASTRONAUTS AND CAN DAMAGE SATELLITES

Solar stormsor solar activity, can be divided into four main components that may have an impact on Earth:

  • Solar flares: A large explosion in the sun’s atmosphere. These flares are made of photons emanating directly from the flare site. Solar flares only hit Earth when they occur on the Earth-facing side of the Sun.
  • Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs): Large clouds of plasma and magnetic field erupting from the sun. These clouds can erupt in any direction and then continue in that direction, plowing the solar wind. These clouds cause impacts to the Earth only when they are directed towards the Earth.
  • High speed solar winds: They come from coronal holes on the Sun, which form anywhere on the Sun and usually only when they are closer to the solar equator do the winds hit Earth.
  • Solar energy particles: High-energy charged particles thought to be released primarily by shocks formed at the front of coronal mass ejections and solar flares. When a CME cloud passes through the solar wind, particles of solar energy can be produced and because they are charged, they follow the magnetic field lines between the Sun and Earth. The impact will only have charged particles that follow the magnetic field lines that intersect the Earth.

Although this may seem dangerous, astronauts are not in immediate danger from these phenomena due to the relatively low orbit of manned missions.

However, they must be concerned about cumulative exposure during spacewalks.

This photo shows the sun's coronal holes in an X-ray image.  The outer solar atmosphere, the corona, is structured by strong magnetic fields, which when closed can cause the atmosphere to suddenly and violently eject bubbles of gas and magnetic fields called coronal mass ejections.

This photo shows the sun’s coronal holes in an X-ray image. The outer solar atmosphere, the corona, is structured by strong magnetic fields, which when closed can cause the atmosphere to suddenly and violently eject bubbles or tongues of gas and magnetic fields called coronal mass ejections.

Damage caused by solar storms

Solar flares can damage satellites and have huge financial costs.

Charged particles can also threaten airlines by disrupting the Earth’s magnetic field.

Very large flares can even create currents within power grids and disrupt power supplies.

When coronal mass ejections hit Earth, they cause geomagnetic storms and enhanced aurora.

They can disrupt radio waves, GPS coordinates and overload electrical systems.

A large influx of energy could flow into high-voltage electrical networks and permanently damage transformers.

This could shut down businesses and homes around the world.

Source: NASA – Solar storm and space weather



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