Magnetic storms can fry our electronics. To avoid a catastrophe, researchers propose a new method of studying space weather

Sufficiently strong and well-directed coronal mass ejection from the Sun can completely destroy our entire electronic infrastructure. Although it sounds like a preview of another catastrophic movie, according to scientists from the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, it is a very realistic vision.

In their latest research paper published in The Astrophysical Journal, the researchers admit that the inhabitants of the Earth actually have no way to protect themselves from the effects of such a strong magnetic storm. Therefore, they try to at least improve the methods of predicting such events, so that they can warn people about them as much in advance as possible.

To predict the occurrence of a magnetic storm on the Sun, you first need to understand how they form. For this purpose, in their work, scientists describe not only their mechanics, but also their interaction with the Earth’s magnetic field.

Coronal mass ejections are among the most energetic events in the solar system. Powerful clouds of plasma and magnetic charges are projected from the Sun’s atmosphere into interplanetary space at a speed of 100 to 3500 km / s. Such gigantic clouds of plasma and accompanying shock waves can reach Earth’s orbit in less than a day and cause a powerful geomagnetic storm here, which poses a threat to astronauts and to all technology in space and on Earth.

Coronal mass ejection

Carrington incident

Humans felt the effects of space weather in 1859, when a geomagnetic storm caused by a coronal mass ejection on the Sun destroyed all telegraph infrastructure in North America and Europe. It was the main means of communication at that time. According to research from a few years ago, if the same storm had happened today, modern electronic devices would not be protected against its effects in any way. A powerful magnetic storm on the Sun can damage electronic circuits, television, the Internet, and radio communication systems on Earth, leading to a serious crisis in most areas of life. In July 2012, there was an ejection of plasma on the Sun comparable to that of the 19th century, but fortunately for us, the plasma cloud was not ejected towards the Earth.

According to many experts, the damage caused by such a storm would lead to trillions of dollars in losses, and it would take up to 10 years to restore the damaged infrastructure and economy. Therefore, understanding and forecasting the most dangerous events is the most important element in protecting society and technology from space weather .

Coronal mass ejections interact.

In this latest study, astronomers have shown that the strongest and most intense geomagnetic storms are caused by rapid coronal mass ejections interacting in interplanetary space with other coronal mass ejections. Such interplanetary interactions between different coronal mass ejections occur when they are released from the Sun in sequence, one after another, from the same active region. Interaction between one plasma cloud and another leads to a faster particle acceleration than would be the case with individual clouds.

Understanding the characteristics of extreme solar eruptions and extreme space weather phenomena will allow us to better understand the dynamics and variability of the Sun and the processes behind them, says Dr. Jenny Marcela Rodriguez Gomez, researcher at the Skoltech Space Center.

When can we expect a threat?

Currently, the Earth is at the beginning of a new 11-year cycle of solar activity, which is unlikely to be strong. However, this does not change the fact that extreme solar weather phenomena most often occur during not very strong cycles or during the deceleration phase. At the peak of solar activity, enormous amounts of energy are released in the form of numerous solar flares and coronal mass ejections, while in the phase of the cycle, when activity is already diminishing, energy can accumulate longer on the surface and be ejected in single, but much stronger, bursts. mass.

Today’s world, which relies so heavily on the achievements of technology and electronics, should therefore particularly carefully study the processes taking place on the surface of the Sun. This will give us a chance to anticipate and prepare for a geomagnetic storm that, without warning, could completely change our lives for many, many years to come.

Magnetic storms can fry our electronics. To avoid a catastrophe, researchers propose a new method of studying space weather