Terrifying Solar storms putting satellites in danger, NASA says | Tech News

Terrifying Solar storms putting satellites in danger, NASA says

Earth's thermosphere has experienced its highest temperature in nearly 20 years as a result of intense solar storms.

| Updated on: Jun 24 2023, 18:03 IST
6 TERRIFYING solar storms that blasted Earth in 2022
NASA satellite
1/6 On June 29, a surprise solar storm struck the Earth. The solar storm was not caused by coronal mass ejections (CME) but by a corotating interaction region (CIR), which opened a hole in the Earth's magnetosphere. It was a G1-class solar storm which is capable of causing shortwave radio blackouts and GPS disruptions. Interestingly, it coincided with the rare five planet alignment event.  (NASA)
NASA satellite
2/6 Extremely rare pink auroras could be seen on November 3 near Greenland, after a G1-class solar storm slammed into the Earth. Solar storms usually give a greenish hue due to ionizing of Oxygen atoms. However, the CME in this case was able to reach the lower strata of the atmosphere which ionized Nitrogen atoms and gave off the rare pink aura.  (Representative Photo) (Pixabay)
NASA satellite
3/6 On November 6, a powerful solar flare which was estimated to be an X-class solar flare caused temporary radio blackouts in Australia and New Zealand. The resultant solar storm blocked all high frequency radio waves making it hard for various emergency services and airlines that use radio communications to operate for multiple hours.  (Pixabay)
NASA satellite
4/6 On August 7 and 8, a mysterious phenomenon was seen after a solar storm strike which scientists call STEVE (strong thermal emission velocity enhancement). A gigantic ribbon of purple light followed by a wave of green light could be seen in many parts of North America.   (@KaniskiDylan / Twitter)
NASA satellite
5/6 A rare double solar storm attack was seen on March 14 when a G2-class solar storm was quickly followed up with another G1-class solar storm. Scientists believe that such multiple solar storm attacks are going to be more frequent in coming days as the Sun reaches the peak of its solar cycle. (Pixabay)
NASA satellite
6/6 On October 25, the Sun seemed to beam a smile at Earth even as it spewed a stream of dangerous solar particles towards our planet. Multiple dark regions popped up on the Sun that gave an uncanny impression of a smiley face. The resultant solar storm from the event was noted to be a G2-class which is so strong that it is capable of causing fluctuations in electricity grids on Earth.  (SDO/AIA)
NASA satellite
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Intense solar storms heat up Earth's thermosphere, raising concerns for satellite safety, reveals NASA. (AP)

Earth's thermosphere has experienced its highest temperature in nearly 20 years as a result of intense solar storms. These storms, caused by coronal mass ejections and solar wind from the sun, have led to a significant increase in the temperature of the thermosphere, which is the second-highest layer of the Earth's atmosphere, according to a Live Science report. The temperature spike was measured using NASA's Thermosphere Climate Index (TCI), reaching a peak of 0.24 terawatts (TW) on March 10. The last time such high temperatures were recorded was in 2003.

The consecutive geomagnetic storms in January and February were responsible for this temperature increase. Typically, infrared emissions after a storm cool down the thermosphere, but the continuous occurrence of storms maintained the elevated temperature levels. Since then, additional powerful geomagnetic storms have occurred, indicating that the warming trend is ongoing.

Scientists predict that the next solar maximum, a phase of heightened solar activity, will occur in 2025. This suggests that the warming trend in the thermosphere will persist for the next few years. However, these temperature changes pose challenges for satellites in low-Earth orbit, as the expanding and warming thermosphere increases aerodynamic drag on spacecraft. This increased drag can pull satellites closer to Earth, potentially leading to collisions or orbital instability.

Satellite operators attempt to mitigate these risks by adjusting the orbit of their spacecraft when necessary. However, the unpredictable nature of space weather makes it challenging to anticipate these maneuvers until it may be too late. Furthermore, recent research suggests that the solar activity peak could arrive earlier than expected, potentially exacerbating the satellite disaster risk.

Despite the short-term warming, studies indicate that over longer timescales, temperatures in the thermosphere are actually declining due to the presence of excess carbon dioxide (CO2) caused by climate change. This excess CO2 leads to increased infrared emissions into space, contributing to the cooling of the thermosphere.

In short, the recent temperature peak in the Earth's thermosphere, driven by solar storms, has raised concerns regarding the impacts on Earth-orbiting satellites. While the thermosphere's temperature is expected to continue rising in the coming years, long-term trends suggest a decline due to the effects of climate change.

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First Published Date: 24 Jun, 18:03 IST