Sunspot crackling with solar flares spells solar storm trouble on Earth; blackouts span globe

A new sunspot, AR3234, is crackling with solar flares and has caused multiple eruptions in the last 24 hours. Radio blackouts have now occured all around the Earth.

| Updated on: Feb 22 2023, 11:21 IST
Do all solar activities like solar storms, CME, impact Earth? This is what NASA says
Solar flare
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)
Solar flare
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)
Solar flare
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)
Solar flare
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Multiple solar flare eruptions have resulted in severe radio blackouts across the Earth. A massive solar storm in the works? (Pixabay)

After a glancing blow by coronal mass ejections (CME) on February 20, that produced a very weak solar storm, it was expected that the Sun would be quiet for a while. However, that does not seem to be the case. Yesterday, February 21, another new sunspot, AR3234, has turned unstable and has been crackling with solar flares. In the last 24 hours, it has also produced multiple M-class solar flare eruptions, which have resulted in radio blackouts all across the planet. As the Earth struggles with this ordeal, there are fears that another X-class solar flare eruption could easily trigger a terrifying solar storm.

The development comes from a report by which noted on its website, “New sunspot AR3234 is crackling with solar flares including multiple M4- and M5-class events on Feb. 21st. Pulses of radiation from AR3234 are ionizing the top of Earth's atmosphere, causing a rolling series of shortwave radio blackouts around all longitudes of our planet”.

Strong solar activity results in blackouts

Radio blackouts are caused by solar flare eruptions, which release an extremely high amount of radiation, such as X-rays and gamma rays, into space which interrupts wireless communication through satellites. Usually, these happen over a small region, depending on whichever part of the Earth is within the geoeffective range of the flare. However, this time, the entire Earth succumbed to this solar onslaught. This happened because there were continuous solar flare eruptions which resulted in a series of shortwave radio blackouts around the Earth.

The radio blackout affected independent planes and drones, small ships as well as amateur radio controllers, who all struggled to broadcast and receive communications.

Fears of solar storm

Such eruptions also release a huge amount of coronal mass ejections into space, and it can reach the Earth and cause yet another solar storm. Considering how lengthy the eruption was, the resultant solar storm can be extremely powerful. A powerful solar storm can potentially damage satellites, break down mobile networks and internet services, cause power grid failures and corrupt sensitive ground-based electronics such as pacemakers and ventilators. However, whether this solar storm can turn so dangerous is something we have to wait and watch.

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First Published Date: 22 Feb, 11:20 IST