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.
A solar flare is observed as a sudden, rapid and intense variation in brightness on the sun’s atmosphere. 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 t...
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Despite the effort taken, the scientific community still has a long way to go in understanding and predicting solar activities and space weather. Douglas Biesecker, physicist of NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, claims that out current understanding of space weather is like where terrestrial weather was 50 years ago (Ferris 12). He also pointed out that currently scientists cannot measure a storm’s intensity until it is captured by the ACE satellite, sometimes leaving only 20 minutes before the storm is to reach the Earth. (Ferris 12) We can see that many problems concerning solar storms still remain unclear, and the current technologies of space weather detection and prediction are still limited in various ways. Until the day when we find solution to these problems, solar sto¬rms are still a significant potential threat to humanity that cannot be overlooked.
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