What are the causes of the Geomagnetic storm that are affecting our planet?

The sun is increasing its activity, with direct consequences towards the Earth

by Lorenzo Ciotti
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What are the causes of the Geomagnetic storm that are affecting our planet?
© NASA / Handout

A new series of Northern Lights will soon be visible and could once again light up the skies of our beloved planet. In fact, experts predict new geomagnetic storms produced by a large group of AR3664 sunspots. The active region AR3664 set on May 14 and will take about 15 days to appear in our field of view again on the far side of the Sun.

The sunspot group is expected to show up again around May 26 and then head towards Earth a few days later. This means new Northern Lights. But what are geomagnetic storms? 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 pressure of the solar wind changes as a function of solar activity and these changes modify the electric currents present in the ionosphere.

Magnetic storms generally last 24 to 48 hours, although some can last for several days.

Northern Lights© Mathieu Lewis-Rolland / Stringer

In 1989, an electromagnetic storm occurred over the skies of Quebec, causing the Northern Lights to be visible as far away as Texas.

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.

Northern Lights© Blake Benard / Stringer

Solar protons with energy above 30 MeV are particularly dangerous.

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 (frequencies below 30 MHz) 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