What are solar storms? Everything you need to know about geomagnetic storms

There's a solar storm headed to slam into Earth today and it might affect GPS and mobile phone signals amongst other things. But what exactly is a solar storm? Read on to find out. 

| Updated on: Aug 21 2022, 18:47 IST
All you need to know about solar storms
All you need to know about solar storms (Pixabay)
All you need to know about solar storms
All you need to know about solar storms (Pixabay)

We told you earlier today that there was a high-speed solar storm headed towards Earth and this powerful storm is approaching at the speed of 1.6 million kilometres per hour, according to details from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa). Now, this geomagnetic storm originated from the Sun's atmosphere and once it hits our planet, it can have a significant impact on a part of space that is dominated by the Earth's magnetic field. The solar storm today is expected to impact GPS, mobile signals, and communication. It is possibly going to affect satellites in the Earth's upper atmosphere and disrupt signals, communication networks, and interfere with GPS navigation, satellite TV, phone signals etc. It may also interfere with power transmission. 

"THE SOLAR WIND IS COMING: Later today, a high-speed stream of solar wind is expected to hit Earth's magnetic field. Flowing from an equatorial hole in the sun's atmosphere, wind speeds could top 500 km/s. Full-fledged geomagnetic storms are unlikely, but lesser geomagnetic unrest could spark high latitude auroras. Aurora alerts: SMS Text.", reads the post shared on Spaceweather.com.

Also read: Looking for a smartphone? Check Mobile Finder here.

This solar storm, or solar flare, as it is also known, is flowing from an equatorial hole in the sun's atmosphere and was first detected on July 3. It can travel at a maximum speed of 500km/second as spaceweather.com points out. According to Space Weather Prediction Center, USA, this geomagnetic storm can also blackout high-frequency radio communication for about an hour over a vast area. The centre has marked the solar flares at X1-level, where ‘X' denotes the strength of the flare.

What are solar storms?

Solar storms are not storms the way we understand them on our planet. They are huge bursts of charged particles that get ejected from the Sun's atmosphere into space. Solar storms have their roots in an 11-year cycle that shifts the polarity of the Sun's magnetic field. The magnetic forces on the sun get tangled during the process of shifting polarities, and can break out through the surface. This reaction sends the sun's plasma into outer space like flares. These flares have the capacity to potentially trigger storms on Earth.

Nasa classifies the biggest flares as X-class flares and this is based on a classification system that categorises solar flares according to their strength. The smallest flares are classified as A, then there are B, C, M, and X-class flares. The one expected to hit Earth today is an X-class flare, classified as X1 by the Space Weather Prediction Center.

The most powerful geomagnetic storm to have ever hit Earth lead to the 1859 Carrington Event where telegraph lines electrified, zapping operators and setting offices ablaze across North America and Europe. If a storm that strong hits us now, it will lead to billions of people losing power across continents. 

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First Published Date: 13 Jul, 18:10 IST