Solar storms what you need to know

On March 8 the little blue and green marble known as the Earth was showered in excess solar radiation. The sun has been in a phase of higher than normal activity for the past two months.

Early in the morning on March 8, the Earth was hit with the second strongest solar flare since 2005. The solar flare was launched from the sun at 1,400 miles per second. This jet of highly energized particles was expected to hit the Earth’s magnetic field around 1 a.m.

Two M-flares. Photo from NASA.gov.

Solar flares are a result of coronal mass ejections. These ejections are when parts of the sun break off, shooting out into space. Some higher energy particles can move away from the sun at a rate of thousands of miles a second. This most recent flare was caused by two CMEs on March 4.

The most recent flare is just months after another strong flare hit the Earth’s magnetic field. This period of increased solar activity has been marked by a strong solar storm on the surface of the sun.

So what does this mean for everyone down here living on the planet’s surface? There are a few key things that everyone should know about solar flares and their affects on everyday life.

For the most part, there is very little to worry about as far as the effects solar radiation may have on an individual. The danger with solar storms comes with their ability to disrupt communication and power. Weak solar flares can scramble GPS signals; strong ones like the Earth was subject to on March 8 have the potential to disrupt power, causing spikes in voltage, which could damage grid transformers and knock out power on a large scale.

One of the best things that comes from solar flares and solar storms are the auroras. These auroras are caused when the super hot gasses from the sun create energy waves as a result of colliding with the Earth’s protective atmosphere. These waves of energy collect around the poles causing a light show.

There are some down sides to auroras for travelers. In many cases, flights are scheduled to avoid them, as the higher than normal electrical presence in the atmosphere can wreak havoc with the pilots and the equipment on planes.

While solar flares can seem like some world-ending apocalyptic natural disaster, they are for the most part harmless to people. With the proper precautions, even the effects that solar flares have on many of the ground-based power grids can be avoided; all it takes are notifications to those who monitor and control the power grids. Solar flares are one of the more stunning cosmic events that directly affect people. While it happens millions of miles away, we can still view its impact.

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