Will Earth be blind to terrifying solar storms now? | Tech News

Will Earth be blind to terrifying solar storms now?

The NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory has entered its eclipse season. Know what it is and whether the Earth will be blind to incoming solar storms.

| Updated on: Jan 28 2023, 12:10 IST
6 TERRIFYING solar storms that blasted Earth in 2022
Solar storm
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)
Solar storm
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)
Solar storm
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)
Solar storm
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)
Solar storm
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)
Solar storm
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)
Solar storm
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Will the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory entering the eclipse season cause a temporary blindness to detect solar storms coming towards the Earth? Find out. (Pixabay)

How do we know when a solar storm is about to hit Earth? A large part is because of the space telescopes and spacecraft that are continuously monitoring the Sun for any sign of solar activity. This is the reason we always get a 24 to 48 hours preparation time whenever a solar storm arrives. And a major part of the process is the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). However, things are going to change as the SDO has entered its seasonal eclipse phase when the Earth blinds the space telescope. If a solar storm were to strike the Earth now, would we be blind to it?

According to a report by SpaceWeather.com, “SDO eclipse season is underway. "Eclipse season" is a three-week period that comes twice a year near the equinoxes during which Earth blocks SDO's view of the sun for a short while (72 minutes at most) each day. The current season started on Jan. 20th and will be finished in mid-February”.

Will the NASA SDO eclipse affect our ability to predict solar storms?

Solar disturbances take time to reach the Earth. Solar storms, which are generally caused by coronal mass ejections (CME) particles, move slowly after being released into space, and can take up to two days before they strike the Earth's magnetosphere. But the way we predict solar storms generally is by observing the explosion on the Sun which can last just a few minutes. So, if an observing telescope misses out on that explosion, the incoming solar storm itself may be missed. With the NASA SDO losing up to 72 minutes a day, it can be crucial.

However, there is no need to worry due to multiple reasons. First, the SDO is not the only satellite monitoring the Sun. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also has a satellite called DSCOVR which does the same. So, even in the absence of SDO, it can continue to spot solar eruptions.

Further, the SDO is fitted with instruments such as the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) and the Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment (EVE) which can also read eruption signatures hours after the explosion. It can also detect high electromagnetic presence in space which will indicate the presence of CME particles in the general direction of the Earth.

Finally, there are many Earth-based satellites throughout the planet which also keep a track of solar disturbances. With so many fall-back measures, it is unlikely that a solar storm will escape the eyes of astronomers.

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First Published Date: 28 Jan, 12:09 IST