The Earth was hit by two strong solar flares and more are expected.

Two Strong Solar Flares Just hit the earth, And More are on the Way

Image Credit: Daily Express

The movie Europa Report depicts a hypothetical scenario where a crewed spacecraft named Europa One, during its mission to Jupiter's moon Europa, loses communication with Earth after being hit by a solar storm resulting from a coronal mass ejection. The surge of energy overloaded the ship's communication systems, leaving the crew stranded without any support from Earth. It's important to note that this story is a work of fiction created by the filmmakers.

Solar Fares: How Dangerous are they?

Although the mission in the movie Europa Report was fictional, the danger posed by extreme solar activity is a real threat. Solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) occur frequently, and have impacted Earth in the past. In 1859, a powerful solar storm hit the planet, damaging communication technologies that were in their infancy at the time.

Reports even claimed that the electrical surge was so intense that it caused a telegraph office to catch fire. Nowadays, our society is much more reliant on communication technologies, and a similar event could potentially have catastrophic consequences.

On April 19, NASA made an announcement that two strong solar flares had been emitted from the Sun and were heading towards Earth. The Solar Dynamics Observatory observed the flares reaching their peak at 9:35 pm and 11:57 pm ET, respectively.

Solar flares can last for a few minutes or hours, and they can have a significant impact on various systems, including the electrical grid, radio communications, and navigation signals. They also pose a significant risk to astronauts in space. Moreover, the harmful electromagnetic radiation travels at the speed of light, which means that by the time a flare is detected, it's already too late to prepare for its effects.

When solar flares reach Earth's atmosphere, they can cause increased levels of X-ray and UV radiation, which can ionize the lower levels of the ionosphere on the side of the planet facing the Sun. If a flare is strong enough, it can even penetrate deeper into the ionosphere and interfere with radio waves that carry crucial information.

This interference can result in the degradation or complete loss of signals transmitted during the storm. This can be problematic, especially if communication is essential for survival. Although solar flares won't harm humans directly, the downstream effects on our civilization's infrastructure could be significant.

Solar Flares: How are they Classified?

The classification system for solar flares is similar to those used for measuring natural disasters like earthquakes, such as the Richter Scale. Instead of using pure numbers, solar flares are classified using a letter-number combination, which may be confusing to some.

Astronomers measure the peak emission in the soft X-ray part of the spectrum between 0.1 and 0.8 nm, which indicates the flare's power. Flares can also be categorized based on the amount of radiation that hits the planet, measured in watts per square meter.

The weakest flares are classified as A-Class, and a flare ten times more powerful is labeled as B-Class. C-Class flares are ten times more powerful than B-Class flares, but the pattern breaks with M-Class flares, which are 10 times more powerful than C-Class flares. X-Class flares represent flares 10,000 times more powerful than A-Class flares, and their power is unbounded.

Flares can be further classified by adding a number after the letter classification, with higher numbers indicating more power. However, for X-Class flares, numbers are added without any limit once they are ten times more powerful than an X-Class flare.

Solar flares are classified into A, B, C, M, and X classes based on their peak emission in the soft X-ray spectrum and the amount of radiation striking the Earth's surface. A, B, and C-Class flares are not strong enough to affect the Earth, but M-Class flares can interfere with communication systems, while X-Class flares can cause even more damage.

The most powerful solar flare on record was observed in 2003 and was rated at X28, although instruments malfunctioned during the event, suggesting it may have been even stronger. It is like measuring lava's temperature using a glass thermometer that explodes before reaching its maximum reading.

The Solar Cycle

Unlike Earth, the Sun's magnetic field is generated by the motion of the entire star, as it is composed of a massive ball of hydrogen constantly in motion due to the forces of gravity and fusion. This creates incredibly powerful magnetic fields that are unmatched anywhere else in the solar system.

It's worth noting that while it's unlikely that we'll be hit by anything powerful enough to cause significant damage, it's not impossible. In 1859, a massive solar storm known as the Carrington Event occurred, which was powerful enough to cause widespread disruption to telegraph systems and auroras seen as far south as the Caribbean.

If a similar event were to occur today, the widespread use of electronic technology in our daily lives could make the impact much more severe. That's why it's important for scientists and space agencies to monitor solar activity and prepare for the possibility of a severe solar storm.

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