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How solar storms affect you

We are currently experiencing the effects of a solar storm. Since Monday morning, high-energy particles have been hurtling towards Earth from the Sun. This is the result of a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME); a sudden burst of electromagnetic energy and particles released into space from the Sun’s atmosphere. This Youtube video shows a large solar eruption that occurred in June, 2011: In space, CME particles can collide with crucial electronics onboard a satellite, disrupting its systems. This is of particular concern in a region centred over a point close to the Falkland Islands, known as the South Atlantic Anomaly, where the Earth’s inner radiation belt comes closer to our planet’s surface. Normally satellites experience much higher levels of radiation when travelling through this region, and these effects will be exacerbated during a solar storm. Interference with satellite signal transmissions can potentially affect our satellite-dependent communications and TV. Disruptions can also affect satellite navigation resulting in positional errors of up to tens of metres "“ with significant consequences for aircraft navigation and landing in particular. Another concern for aircrews is the enhanced radiation experienced during solar storms at high altitude and at the poles of the earth. Although this is unlikely to cause permanent harm, airlines often re-route aircraft to avoid exposure. The effects of this solar storm have even been felt here in Britain. Increased solar activity enhances the auroral oval in both the northern and southern hemispheres meaning that people in the north of the UK were able to witness the spectacular Northern Lights over the last few nights.
The Aurora Australis in the Southern Hemisphere
The Aurora Australis in the Southern Hemisphere
In severe cases very large CMEs can induce electrical fluctuations at ground level with the potential to blow out transformers in power grids, as happened in the 1989 Quebec blackout. There’s little need to worry this time round though. This storm is likely to be only moderate as the magnetic polarity of the plasma is co-aligned with the Earth’s magnetic field. Severe solar storm effects only occur when it is cross-aligned. Evidently, in an increasingly technological world, space weather is a serious matter. As a result, SSTL and the UK government are keen to monitor it. TechDemoSat-1 which is currently under construction in SSTL’s new Kepler facility, will carry a number of payloads collectively known as The Space Environment Suite to record radiation and ion levels. This suite will provide us with more comprehensive measurements and it is increasingly likely that such payloads will be carried on all missions in the future.





25 January 20120 Comments1 Comment

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