Solar Storm Essay

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Solar Storm – a Potential Threat to Humanity

A solar storm refers to space weather involving solar activities like solar flares and coronal mass ejection. Although most solar storms may only have minor effect on the Earth, a particularly strong one like the 1859 Carrington Event is likely to cause damage of spacecraft and satellites, as well as radio and electricity blackout of large regions on the Earth. In the age that people’s lives are greatly dependent on electronic and telecommunication technologies, our modern civilization is under a constant threat posed by a hazardous solar storm. This paper will examine a few past solar storm observations and attempt to analyze the effects of the major components of solar storms on human technologies and people’s lives.

A solar storm in general consists of three major kinds of solar activities – solar flares, solar proton events (SPE), and coronal mass ejection (CME) (Marusek 2007). These solar activities, sometimes happening together, can affect the Earth in various ways.
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When a solar flare occurs, vast amount of magnetic energy get released and turned into electromagnetic radiation. (NASA 2015) Traveling at light-speed, the resulting radiation containing X-ray, extreme ultraviolet rays, gamma rays and radio waves would arrive at Earth after only 8 minutes. The x-rays may interact with the atoms in the ionosphere of Earth and cause a sudden increase in ionization, which could interfere radar and shortwave radio communication. The ultraviolet rays can heat the upper atmosphere, causing the atmosphere shell to expand, which may drag low orbiting satellites and spacecraft, leading to unexpected orbital changes (Marusek 2007). For instance, the premature demise of the Solar Maximum Mission in 1990 and Skylab in 1979 are due to this phenomenon (Odenwald
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