TECHNOLOGY

A ‘direct hit’ of solar radiation has formed a storm around Earth

An illustration of the sun ejecting a solar flare. (Credits: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

While you may be focused on the heat, unusually high temperatures aren’t the only significant ones weather event hitting Earth this week.

A solar storm with the potential to affect satellites is building around our planet.

Space weather experts say a “snake-like filament” of radiation that burst from the sun on Friday has now reached our planet, causing intense auroras over parts of North America.

Currently at ‘Kp-4’ level, there is a good chance that this geomagnetic activity will reach ‘Kp-5’, when it will be classified as a ‘solar storm’ at G1 level. It can stay at this level for two more days, according to SpaceWeather.com.

The Kp scale is used to measure geomagnetic activity in the Earth’s atmosphere, while the G scale measures the intensity of solar storms.

While G1 points to a minor storm, it could still have some impact on satellite activity, potentially disrupting the Earth’s systems that depend on it. It can even cause minor fluctuations in the power grid.

Down on the planet’s surface, we are protected from most of the effects of solar activity by the Earth’s atmosphere. Satellites do not have the same level of protection, making them vulnerable to space weather.

G1 storms are thought to hit Earth about 900 times during each 11-year solar cycle, during which the sun’s eruptions increase in frequency, before peaking and then waning.

Geomagnetic activity also creates intense light shows in the sky. Extra bright auroras have already been reported in parts of North America as activity has increased.

direct hit! A snake-like filament launched like a large #solarstorm while in the Earth-strike zone. NASA predicts impact early July 19. strong #Aurora shows possible with this one, deep into the mid-latitudes. Amateur #radio & #GPS users expect signal disturbances on the night side of the earth. pic.twitter.com/7FHgS63xiU

— Dr. Tamitha Skov (@TamithaSkov) July 16, 2022

Intense solar flares and storms can seriously affect satellites. A few years ago, Swedish radars temporarily lost track of every aircraft flying in the country. And a few months ago, Elon Musk’s SpaceX lost dozens of satellites to its Starlink Internet project when a solar storm knocked them off their planned orbits.

During a solar cycle, the activity of the sunspots increases, before peaking and decreasing again. This is caused by changes in the sun’s magnetic field, which changes about every 11 years.

As the level of spots changes, the eruption of energy and matter from the sun also increases and decreases. These mass ejections travel through space, often hitting Earth at varying levels of intensity.

Researchers recently devised a new way to predict how intense a solar cycle might be. They think this could help scientists and engineers better prepare for the potential damage caused by space weather.

MORE: A Passing Star Shifting Neptune’s Orbit Could Cause Solar System Collapse

MORE: A Giant Sunspot That Could Spark Significant Solar Flares Is Now Watching Earth

MORE: Solar Eclipse on Mars Captured by NASA’s Perseverance Rover

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