Solar Storms

News: Spacex’s newest fleet of satellites is tumbling out of orbit after being struck by a solar storm.

Solar Storm

  • A solar storm or a Coronal Mass Ejection as astronomers call it is an ejection of highly magnetized particles from the sun. These particles can travel several million km per hour and can take about 13 hours to five days to reach Earth. Earth’s atmosphere protects us, humans, from these particles.
  • But the particles can interact with our Earth’s magnetic field, induce strong electric currents on the surface and affect man-made structures.

Impact on Satellites:

  • The issue came up due to increased drag created by the solar storm in the upper reaches of the Earth’s atmosphere. These storms cause the atmosphere to warm and atmospheric density at our low deployment altitudes to increase. In fact, onboard GPS suggests the escalation speed and severity of the storm caused atmospheric drag to increase up to 50 percent higher than during previous launches.
  • The first recorded solar storm occurred in 1859 and it reached Earth in about 17 hours.
  • It affected the telegraph network and many operators experienced electric shocks.
  • A solar storm that occurred in 1921 impacted New York telegraph and railroad systems and another small-scale storm collapsed the power grid in Quebec, Canada in 1989.
  • A 2013 report noted that if a solar storm similar to the 1859 one hit the US today, about 20-40 million people could be without power for 1-2 years, and the total economic cost will be $0.6-2.6 trillion.
  • The Sun goes through an 11-year cycle – cycles of high and low activity. It also has a longer 100-year cycle.
  • During the last three decades, when the internet infrastructure was booming, it was a low period.
  • And very soon, either in this cycle or the next cycle, we are going towards the peaks of the 100-year cycle.
  • So it is highly likely that we might see one powerful solar storm during our lifetime.