Can solar flares hurt humans?

    Solar flares cause power blackouts, grid failure, GPS crashes and more. But can they hurt humans? Or are we safe from them?
    By: SHAURYA TOMER
    | Updated on: Sep 01 2022, 12:08 IST
    NASA: From Solar Winds, Solar Flares to CME, check how solar phenomena impact Earth
    Solar storm
    1/5 The harrowing thing is that it will not just be China that would be affected by such a devastating solar storm. (NASA)
    Solar Flare
    2/5 Solar Flares: Solar flares are photon flares emitted from the Sun which travel from the flare site. They are rated on the basis of their intensity with the highest being an X-rated solar flare. It can cause power and radio blackouts and are responsible for the stunning phenomenon known to us as the Northern Lights or Auroras. (NASA/SDO)
    CME
    3/5 Coronal Mass Ejections (CME): CMEs are massive plasma clouds carrying photons that are ejected from the Sun. CME occurs during the solar cycle and is at peak in the middle of the cycle. (NASA)
    Coronal Mass Ejection or CME
    4/5 Solar Winds: Solar winds are high speed winds coming from holes in the Sun called Coronal holes. These holes can form anywhere on the surface of the Sun. If these solar winds prevail near the solar equator, they can cause impact on Earth, according to NASA. (Pixabay)
    Solar Particles
    5/5 Solar Energetic Particles: Solar energetic particles are emitted from the Sun during Coronal Mass Ejections. These are charged particles; hence they follow the magnetic field lines between the Sun and the Earth and if they pass the magnetic fields near Earth, they have an impact. (NASA)
    Solar flare
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    Solar flares emitted from the Sun can disrupt communication networks, cause power blackouts, GPS crashes, grid failures and more, but their impact on human health is minimal, if any. (SDO/NASA)

    With the increasing frequency of solar flares due to the Sun being in the middle of its 11-year solar cycle, questions arise about the effects of solar flares. Although solar flares have been known to cause some effect on the environment, there has been no case where humans have been harmed as a result of solar flares hitting Earth. But can solar flares actually hurt humans?

    What are solar flares?

    According to NASA, Solar flares are photon flares emitted from the Sun which travel from the flare site. They are rated on the basis of their intensity with the highest being an X-rated solar flare. Solar Flares occur due to Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) on the surface of the Sun which send charged photon particles hurtling towards Earth.

    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, according to NASA.

    Can solar flares hurt humans?

    According to a statement given by NASA in 2017, “Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground," the space agency said in a September 2017 statement. "However—when intense enough—they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.”

    Dale Gary, PhD, distinguished professor of physics at the New Jersey Institute of Technology's Center for Solar-Terrestrial Research told health.com, “There are potential health effects for anyone exposed to that high-energy radiation, but actually we are protected because those rays and particles get absorbed into our atmosphere.”

    However, people travelling in planes as well as astronauts could be at risk of exposure to solar radiation through solar flare due to their high altitude. Some experts believe that exposure to solar flare affects cardiovascular output. According to a scientific study published in Scientific Reports in 2018, “Disturbed geomagnetic activity can also exacerbate existing diseases and is correlated with significant increases in cardiac arrhythmia, cardiovascular disease, incidence of myocardial infarction related death, alterations in blood flow, increased blood pressure, and epileptic seizures.”

    Although various experts have different opinions on the matter, you shouldn't get worried yet as a strong enough solar flare which could hurt humans isn't a common occurrence by any means.

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    First Published Date: 01 Sep, 12:08 IST
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