After Solar Storm destroys SpaceX satellites, scientists worry about Earth impact | Tech News

After Solar Storm destroys SpaceX satellites, scientists worry about Earth impact

After SpaceX satellites were destroyed in earth orbit by a solar storm, scientists are worried about the impact on Earth as Sun enters volatile phase.

| Updated on: Aug 22 2022, 10:10 IST
Solar flare and solar storm
Solar storm events might be more frequent and more intense on Earth now that the Sun has entered the solar maximum phase. (NASA)

Recently, 40 SPaceX satellites were desroyed just a day after launch due to a massive solar storm that caused them to crash back on to Earth. This has made the entire scientific community worried as the solar storm events are only going to increase due to the rising active phase of our Sun. In an 11-year solar cycle, the Sun has two phases - solar maximum and solar minimum. Solar minimum is when there are less solar flares and coronal mass ejection (CME) on the surface of the Sun resulting in fewer solar storms. At the other end, solar maximum is when these activities greatly increase. For the past few years, the Earth has enjoyed a period of solar minimum. But now the Sun has entered its active period and things may change very quickly.

According to SpaceX, there was a geomagnetic storm with a large burst of solar plasma gas and electromagnetic radiation that greatly increased atmospheric density in low orbit over Earth. This resulted in 40 out of 49 of Elon Musk's satellites not being able to climb high enough to escape Earth's gravity. This caused to drop back towards Earth and they burned up in the atmosphere. Jonathan McDowel, a Harvard-Smithsonian astrophysicist, said that “The incident is believed to be the largest collective loss of satellites from a single geomagnetic event.” But the worst part is, this is just the beginning of the solar maximum. Things can get a lot worse in the near future.

Solar storms pose a threat to Earth

The solar storms are quite unpredictable. For now, we can only observe but not calculate when the next one might hit us. Making things worse, there is no way for us to protect ourselves from these solar storms. It is an imminent danger and there is no way to escape. That is what our situation is vis a vis solar storms.

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To be perfectly clear, human life is not much in danger due to these solar storms. These are at the end of the day, geomagnetic storms with some solar radiation that is mostly absorbed by the atmosphere. Unless an extreme event happens, humans have little to worry about in terms of loss of life. But for the multitude of satellites flying high in Earth's lower and upper atmosphere, things change quite drastically.

There are instances which prove it. In September 1859, telegraph systems across North America and Europe failed after a solar storm hit Earth. Then, in March 1989, another solar storm caused power grid failures in Quebec, Canada.

And who can forget the Halloween Storms of 2003? It affected more than half of the orbiting satellites and disrupted airplane navigation. Electrical grids also went out in parts of Europe for multiple hours and transformers in South Africa were severely damaged. With so many more satellites launched since 2003, a severe solar storm this time can cause massive damage.

Since humanity is dependent on satellites and the Internet for even medical emergencies, communication and much more, the loss of satellites can lead to much harm to humans too, especially if the disruption is long lasting.

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First Published Date: 17 Feb, 13:08 IST