As February breaks 10 year sunspot record, geomagnetic storms run HAVOC on Earth

Geomagnetic storms have plagued the Earth ever since the turn of the year. And recent data from the Sun indicates that things can get a lot worse for us.

| Updated on: Mar 10 2023, 18:01 IST
Do all solar activities like solar storms, CME, impact Earth? This is what NASA says
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1/5 Sun is a source of energy and a lot of activities keep on happening on the fireball. But can Earth be impacted by solar activities? Before we tell you that, it is important to know what solar activity is? According to NASA, solar flares, coronal mass ejections, high-speed solar wind, and solar energetic particles are all forms of solar activity. All solar activity is driven by the solar magnetic field. (NASA)
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2/5 Solar flares impact Earth only when they occur on the side of the sun facing Earth. Because flares are made of photons, they travel out directly from the flare site, so if we can see the flare, we can be impacted by it. (Pixabay)
Geomagnetic storm
3/5 Coronal mass ejections, also called CMEs, are large clouds of plasma and magnetic field that erupt from the sun. These clouds can erupt in any direction, and then continue on in that direction, plowing right through the solar wind. Only when the cloud is aimed at Earth will the CME hit Earth and therefore cause impacts. (NASA)
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4/5 High-speed solar wind streams come from areas on the sun known as coronal holes. These holes can form anywhere on the sun and usually, only when they are closer to the solar equator, do the winds they produce impact Earth. (NASA)
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5/5 Solar energetic particles are high-energy charged particles, primarily thought to be released by shocks formed at the front of coronal mass ejections and solar flares. When a CME cloud plows through the solar wind, high velocity solar energetic particles can be produced and because they are charged, they must follow the magnetic field lines that pervade the space between the Sun and the Earth. Therefore, only the charged particles that follow magnetic field lines that intersect the Earth will result in impacts. (NASA)
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Know why the threat of geomagnetic storms is going to increase for the Earth. (NASA)

When Solar Cycle 25 began at the end of 2019, many forecasters predicted that it would be a weak one based on the past performance of the Sun. The Solar Cycle 24 was a particularly underwhelming one, and we have not really seen an aggressive solar cycle ever since 1859, when the Carrington event took place. However, scarily the Sun has been exceeding the predictions for a while. And as such, it seems the Earth should be prepared for a terrifying geomagnetic storm in the near future because all the signs are pointing towards it.

A study by Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi, an Indian scholar and assistant professor at University of California focused on the adverse effects of geomagnetic storms and the study highlighted that “ this (solar) cycle has the potential to be one of the strongest on record. Recent estimates for the number of sunspots at the peak of this cycle are between 210 and 260 (a very high value)”.

Aggravated Sun can unleash a major geomagnetic storm

The increasing solar activity of the Sun has become apparent ever since 2023 came around. Both the months that have passed, January and February, have broken records for the amount of solar activity in a month. While January broke a 9-year record for the average number of sunspots, the Sun crossed the number of 100 sunspots in the month of February, an event which has only happened 3 times since 2014.

And we are already witnessing the impact of such increased solar activity. Between January and February, the Earth has suffered through 4 X-class solar flare eruptions, multiple M-class flares, a G3-class geomagnetic storm, two G2-class storms and numerous G1-class storms. These have plagued North America, South America, Australia and New Zealand in terms of regular shortwave radio blackouts and GPS disruptions. Recently, they also caused a 5 hour delay for a SpaceX rocket launch and forced oil rigs in Canada to stop operations.

But the worst is yet to come. The peak of the current solar cycle is not expected to arrive before the end of 2024 or beginning of 2025. This means there is still enough time for a G5-class geomagnetic storm. Such a massively intense storm can damage GPS, cripple mobile phone networks and internet connectivity as well as cause power grid failure. It can also cause malfunctions in our electronic devices.

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First Published Date: 10 Mar, 17:49 IST