What is a solar storm and what are the main problems

Just today our beloved planet could be hit by a solar storm

by Lorenzo Ciotti
What is a solar storm and what are the main problems
© NASA / Handout Getty Images News

Just today, December 9, 2023, our beloved planet is expected to be hit by a solar storm, and we don't know what kind of problems it can cause. But what is a solar storm? A solar storm is a disturbance of the Earth's magnetosphere, of a temporary nature, caused by solar activity and detectable by magnetometers at every point on Earth.

During a solar storm the Sun produces strong emissions of matter from its corona which generate a strong solar wind, whose high-energy particles hit the Earth's magnetic field 24 to 36 hours after the coronal mass ejection.

This only happens if the solar wind particles travel in the direction of the Earth. The solar wind releases intense high-energy particles that can generate radiation that is harmful to humans, in the same way as low-energy nuclear radiation.

Earth's atmosphere and magnetosphere act to provide adequate protection at ground level, but astronauts in space are subjected to potentially lethal doses of ionizing radiation. The penetration of high-energy particles into cells can cause chromosomal damage, cancer and other health problems.

High doses could be fatal.

What is a solar storm and what are the problems it can cause

Solar protons with energy above 30 MeV are particularly dangerous. In October 1989, the Sun produced particles so energetic that they could cause the death of an astronaut who found himself on the Moon with only the protection of his space suit.

Communications systems use the ionosphere to reflect radio signals over long distances. Ionospheric storms can affect radio communications at all latitudes. TV and radio frequencies are relatively little affected by solar activity, but surface-to-air shortwave, and amateur radio are often disrupted.

Some military installations may be affected by solar activity. Radar may be one of the systems potentially subject to damage. Telegraph lines in the past were often subject to the effects of magnetic storms. Navigation systems such as GPS, LORAN can suffer serious damage during intense solar activity.