The Sun has a weapon to destroy Earth and it is called the CME storm | Tech News

The Sun has a weapon to destroy Earth and it is called the CME storm

Earth has a nemesis from the Sun and it’s called the CME storm or CME induced solar storm.

| Updated on: Sep 20 2022, 13:38 IST
NASA: From Solar Winds, Solar Flares to CME, check how solar phenomena impact Earth
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1/5 The harrowing thing is that it will not just be China that would be affected by such a devastating solar storm. (NASA)
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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)
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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)
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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)
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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)
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Why this weapon in the form of CME storm, or CME-induced solar storms, can threaten human life on Earth. Find out. (NASA/SDO/

The Sun has been increasingly blasting powerful solar storms towards the Earth ever since the beginning of 2022. And this will continue till 2023 when it reaches the peak of its solar maximum phase and that poses a big problem for Earth. While the majority of these storms have been largely harmless, some of them have had devastating consequences for us. Earlier this year, 40 Starlink satellites were destroyed by a solar storm and these days they regularly disrupt shortwave radio transmission and GPS functioning. These solar storms, which cause noticeable damage to Earth, are called CME storms or coronal mass ejection storms. But what are these and how are they different from a regular solar storm? Read on to find out.

Tech behind Solar Orbiter and how it spots these CME storms

The Solar Orbiter is a Sun-observing satellite developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and is operated by both ESA and NASA. The satellite is equipped with state-of-the-art tech instruments to observe and spot solar storms and CME storms. The satellite contains Solar Wind Plasma Analyser, an instrument which contains a suite of sensors that can measure density, velocity, and temperature of the solar winds. It also contains a magnetometer to measure the magnetic field of a solar storm and a Radio and Plasma Waves (RPW) which determines the characteristics of electromagnetic and electrostatic waves in the solar wind.

What is a CME storm and how dangerous is it?

A CME storm is simply a solar storm that has been induced by CME particles striking the magnetosphere. There are many ways the Sun can cause a solar storm like effect on Earth. The most common among them are radiation-based solar storms, which occur when a solar flare erupts on the Sun and it sends powerful radiation towards the Earth. These travel the fastest and are notorious for causing radio blackouts on Earth. Another type of solar storm is the CIR-activated solar storm. CIR (co-rotating interaction region) are the rips in the magnetosphere caused when solar winds with different speed or orientation approach the Earth at the same time. It weakens the magnetosphere temporarily, letting in more solar radiation than normal and sparks geomagnetic storms.

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A CME storm is different from both of them as it is caused when a sunspot explodes and sends solar particles (plasma) along with high magnetic and radiation waves. The presence of solar particles slows down the speed and it generally takes the solar storm 24-48 hours to reach Earth. But once it reaches, it can cause devastating impact. It can damage satellites, interrupt wireless transmission like GPS, mobile network and internet connectivity as well as damage power grids. The most horrific example of a CME storm was the Carrington event that took place in 1859.

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First Published Date: 20 Sep, 13:38 IST