Shocking! CME with SEVERE solar storm potential hits Solar Orbiter satellite at 1500 km per second

A farside CME struck the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Solar Orbiter at the speed of 1500 km/s. The CME was powerful enough to spark a severe solar storm on Earth. Check details.

| Updated on: Jul 28 2023, 13:27 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)
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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 all about the CME that hit to the Solar Orbiter sattelite. The Earth was spared as the solar storm passed away from it. (Pixabay)

After the Earth was struck by two different coronal mass ejection (CME) clouds in successive days, many believed this was the end of the Sun's assault during the week at hand. But another event has shocked the astronomy community. On July 26, a farside flare eruption released an extremely powerful CME and it hit the European Space Agency (ESA) operated Solar Orbiter satellite. Luckily, the CME cloud delivered a glancing blow as it was moving in a different direction, but if it was Earth-directed it could have sparked a severe solar storm event owing to its incredible intensity.

According to a report by, “Two days ago, a bright CME rocketed away from the farside of the sun. Its plane-of-sky speed in SOHO coronagraph images exceeded 1,500 km/s. If this CME had hit Earth, a strong (possibly severe) geomagnetic storm would have surely resulted. Instead, it flew in the opposite direction and hit Europe's Solar Orbiter (SolO) spacecraft”.

CME strikes Solar Orbiter

This particular CME was recorded traveling at an extreme speed. The report mentions that usually, a CME would take 2 to 3 days to reach where the Solar Orbiter was placed, but it made that journey in just 32 hours. Astronomers are calling it a big solar event, even if the Earth was not involved.

George Ho, a professor at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, and the co-principal investigator for the Energetic Particle Detector suite on Solar Orbiter, told SpaceWeather, “During the 1989 Quebec blackout, it was this type of shock-driven particle increase during the CME arrival that knocked off the power”. According to post-collision data from the Orbiter, 50 MeV ions reached the spacecraft, an increase 10,000 increase from normal.

So far, it is not clear whether the Solar Orbiter suffered any damage, but we expect to find out in the coming days.

If a solar storm of similar intensity were to hit the Earth, it can disrupt GPS, hamper mobile networks and the internet, and even cause a massive power outage by corrupting the power grids. Even the electronic devices on Earth are not safe from malfunctioning.

Solar Orbiter's protection from solar storms

At the heart of this protective technology is the heat shield. The heat shield is a 10 feet tall and 8 feet wide sandwich-like structure. The front layer has thin sheets of titanium foil, followed by a honeycomb-patterned aluminum base, covered in more foil insulation. The nearly 10-inch gap in the shield funnels heat out to space. A smaller, second gap lies between the inner slice and the spacecraft.

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First Published Date: 28 Jul, 13:23 IST