International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

What is a Solar Storm?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Solar Storm

Mains level : Not Much

Studies have found that a powerful solar storm can cause a disruption of the internet, damage submarine cables, and communication satellites.

What is a Solar Storm?

  • A solar storm or a Coronal Mass Ejection as astronomers call it is an ejection of highly magnetized particles from the sun.
  • These particles can travel several million km per hour and can take about 13 hours to five days to reach Earth.
  • Earth’s atmosphere protects us, humans, from these particles.
  • But the particles can interact with our Earth’s magnetic field, induce strong electric currents on the surface and affect man-made structures.

History of solar storms

  • The first recorded solar storm occurred in 1859 and it reached Earth in about 17 hours.
  • It affected the telegraph network and many operators experienced electric shocks.
  • A solar storm that occurred in 1921 impacted New York telegraph and railroad systems and another small-scale storm collapsed the power grid in Quebec, Canada in 1989.
  • A 2013 report noted that if a solar storm similar to the 1859 one hit the US today, about 20-40 million people could be without power for 1-2 years, and the total economic cost will be $0.6-2.6 trillion.

Why is it a cause of concern?

  • The Sun goes through an 11-year cycle – cycles of high and low activity.
  • It also has a longer 100-year cycle.
  • During the last three decades, when the internet infrastructure was booming, it was a low period.
  • And very soon, either in this cycle or the next cycle, we are going towards the peaks of the 100-year cycle.
  • So it is highly likely that we might see one powerful solar storm during our lifetime.

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