NASA scientists have warned that a 'perfect storm' could hit earth due to increased activity inside the sun. In a sudden burst of activity, the sun has become more dynamic, adorned with sunspots and unleashing streams of hot plasma into space.
Over the past week, sunspot numbers have surged tenfold, creating dark blemishes on the sun's surface that expel numerous coronal mass ejections (CMEs) daily. NASA's models indicate that one of these CMEs could collide with Earth in the upcoming days, potentially affecting our magnetic field and atmosphere by late November 25. Confirmation awaits a comprehensive analysis of the storm trajectories by scientists.
Coronal mass ejections, colossal clouds of solar plasma ejected during periods of heightened magnetic activity like sunspots, accompany solar flares—intense bursts of electromagnetic energy. Daniel Brown, an astronomy and science communication associate professor at Nottingham Trent University, explains that solar flares result from the sun's twisted and stressed magnetic fields, releasing light and triggering CMEs. While the light and radiation from a flare reach us in just over eight minutes, the CME's particles take a day or more to arrive, likened to a muzzle flash and a traveling cannonball, respectively.
Triggers geomagnetic storms
When CME particles collide with Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere, they can trigger geomagnetic storms. Huw Morgan, head of the Solar Physics group at Aberystwyth University, defines a geomagnetic storm as a disruption of Earth's magnetic field by solar eruptions. The storms vary in strength, measured on a scale from G1 (minor) to G5 (extreme) by NOAA, depending on the CME's power. While G1 storms are more common, G4 and G5 storms are rarer but more potent, occurring during the 11-year solar cycle.
These storms can lead to captivating auroras, visible farther from the equator than usual, as charged particles in Earth's atmosphere react with gases, causing them to glow. Brett Carter, an associate professor in space science at RMIT University, explains that during geomagnetic storms
, these particles are forced deeper into the atmosphere, intensifying auroras. Beyond the aesthetic display, geomagnetic storms can impact infrastructure, causing power grid fluctuations, radio blackouts, and corrosion in pipelines due to geomagnetically induced currents.
Critical infrastructure, such as large-scale power grids, pipelines, High Frequency (HF) radio/radar, and satellites, faces significant disruptions during geomagnetic storms. Satellites experience increased surface charging, affecting electronics and operations.
Moreover, the energy dumped into Earth's atmosphere during storms causes atmospheric swelling, complicating satellite tracking and collision prevention in low-Earth orbit. The potential consequences underscore the importance of monitoring and understanding the impacts of solar activity on our technologically dependent society.