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What are solar radiation storms and their impact on Earth?

Know all about solar radiation storms and how it impacts the Earth.

Updated on: Jul 19 2023, 11:42 IST
What is a solar radiation storm? (NASA/SDO)

Every now and then we hear about solar storms and solar flares being spewed out by the Sun and the impact it has on Earth including on satellites and power grids. But have you heard about solar radiation storms? Before discussing the term, let's first know what are solar storms and solar flares.

NASA describes a solar flare as an intense blast of radiation caused by the release of magnetic energy from sunspots. Whereas, solar storms refer to the atmospheric consequences on Earth due to space events like coronal mass ejections and solar flares originating from the Sun.

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What is a solar radiation storm?

The Space Weather Prediction Center reported, solar radiation storms are large-scale magnetic eruptions that cause coronal mass ejections (CME) and associated solar flare. As a result of this phenomenon, charged particles in the solar atmosphere are accelerated to very high speeds.

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Proton is a particle which gets accelerated at high speed which is equivalent to the speed of light. With such high velocities, it takes these accelerated protons just a few minutes to travel 150 million kilometres from the sun to the Earth. These protons then impact the Earth’s magnetosphere and are then guided down the magnetic field lines, they start to impact the atmosphere near the north and south poles

How solar radiation storms are categorized?

As per SWPA, NOAA Space Weather Scale have categorized these storms from S1 to S5. The S1 type denotes a minor radiation storm whereas, S5 comes as a warning sign or when the 100 MeV protons reach 1 proton flux unit (pfu). A solar radiation storm can last from a few hours to several days.

Impact of solar radiation storms on Earth

Solar radiation storms can create serve impacts near the Earth’s orbit. The accelerated protons can damage satellites and give high doses of radiation to humans in the space (think International Space Station) causing damage to electronic circuits and biological DNA. Moreover, when energetic protons collide with the atmosphere, they ionize atoms, producing free electrons that create a radio wave-absorbing layer in the ionosphere, hindering radio communications on Earth.

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First Published Date: 19 Jul, 11:27 IST