Dangers of magnetic storms to tech: GPS, satellites to power grid, know it all

Magnetic storms are rated on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being the weakest and 5 being the strongest. The most severe magnetic storm ever recorded was the Carrington storm in 1859. Read on for more information.

| Updated on: Jun 09 2023, 13:22 IST
Wrath of Sun! Solar flares spark Geomagnetic storms, blackouts, and more on Earth this week
Geomagnetic storm
1/6 Activity on the Sun was quite high in the first week of May 2023. The week began with the sunspot AR3288 exploding, which resulted in a massive solar flare eruption, which caused a shortwave radio blackout in multiple regions including northern and western Africa, the northeastern region of South America, and some fringe areas in western Europe. (Pixabay)
Geomagnetic storm
2/6 On Wednesday, multiple coronal mass ejection (CME) clouds struck the Earth. These were released the previous weekend when a magnetic filament erupted. This sparked a G1-class geomagnetic storm on Earth.  (Pixabay)
Geomagnetic storm
3/6 The very next day, “Sunspot complex AR3293-3296 turned unstable and began exploding continuously (an event which is still going on today, three days since its start). As a result, the Earth experienced a rolling series of shortwave radio blackouts. (@amazingskyguy / Twitter)
Geomagnetic storm
4/6 On day two of the sunspot complex explosion, multiple CME clouds were released from the surface of the Sun, however, due to so many CMEs escaping together, the telescopes were not able to find out whether one of them was Earth-directed or not. (Pixabay)
Geomagnetic storm
5/6 The suspicion that one of the CME was indeed Earth-directed became clear as today, NOAA forecasters declared that a geomagnetic storm can hit our planet today after a CME wave was seen headed for us. Reportedly, G2-G3-class geomagnetic storm can strike the Earth later today. (NASA)
Geomagnetic storm
6/6 But sadly, that won’t be the end of solar activity for this week. Another geomagnetic storm is expected to arrive either tomorrow, May 7, or on May 8. And in case both of these merge, the resultant storm can be terrifying. (NASA/SDO)
Geomagnetic storm
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Geomagnetic storms can cause power grid failures, auroras and more. (NASA)

According to the US Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), a magnetic storm is defined as "a major disturbance of Earth's magnetosphere that occurs when there is a very efficient exchange of energy from the solar wind into the space environment surrounding Earth." Magnetic storms are rated on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being the weakest and 5 being the strongest. The most severe magnetic storm ever recorded was the Carrington storm in 1859.

Hazards of Magnetic Storms

1. Technology Disruption: Rapid changes in the magnetic field during magnetic storms can negatively affect our technology-based infrastructure. This is particularly true during severe storms.

2. Communication Problems: Magnetic storms cause heating and distortion of the ionosphere, which can make long-range radio communication difficult or even impossible. The use of global positioning systems (GPS) can also be affected, leading to degraded communication.

3. Satellite Issues: Magnetic storms can cause the ionosphere to expand, increasing satellite drag and making it challenging to control their orbits. The buildup and discharge of static-electric charges during these storms can also damage satellite electronics. Astronauts and high altitude pilots may be exposed to higher levels of radiation.

4. Power Grid Surges: Magnetic storms generate rapid changes in the magnetic field, which can cause voltage surges in power grids. These surges can lead to blackouts and disrupt the supply of electricity.

The Historic Geomagnetic Storm of 1859

The most significant geomagnetic storms are associated with coronal mass ejections (CMEs). The Carrington storm of 1859 was the largest ever recorded. It resulted in intense auroras and malfunctioning telegraph systems. Operators were even electrocuted due to the storm's impact.

Recent Geomagnetic Storms

On February 9 and 10, a moderate geomagnetic storm affected the Earth. However, it was not considered highly hazardous. This storm was triggered by a filament eruption on the Sun. Similar geomagnetic storms have occurred in the past, including one on February 3.

Magnetic storms pose risks to our technology, communication systems, satellites, and power grids. Understanding their effects can help us prepare for and mitigate their potential hazards.

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First Published Date: 09 Jun, 13:22 IST