Look out for Solar Storms

Solar Flares cause damage to networks

Solar Storms and what they can do

Do you know what a solar flare is, and do you know how they can impact our delicate electronic equipment?

When the Sun releases a large amount of energy and high temperature gases erupt from the surface of the Sun, this is known as a solar flare.  A solar flare is actually a solar eruption caused by a significant ejection of solar material that arcs away from the surface of the Sun and creates a spectacular effect around the Corona of the Sun.

You might be interested to see what a close up of a Solar Flare actually looks like through a telescope, and here is a typical close up view of what a solar flare actually looks like.

However, a solar flare can also cause other effects here on Earth, and we have been warned to be aware of the impact of the solar storms that radiate all the way across space from the Sun to our atmosphere.  The problem is a solar flare is accompanied by a large burst of radiation, and this radiation bubble can reach all the way to Earth.  There is a risk that an unexpected pulse of electromagnetic radiation could have an impact on Earth, despite the large distance we are away from the Sun.

When the solar radiation from a solar flare impacts us here on Earth, there is potential for disruption to our electromagnetic communications signals.  This might not sound like there is anything to worry about, but nearly all of our important networks rely on electromagnetic signals such as communications transmissions, microwave links, satellite signals, and even disruption to electricity supplies and other networks that can be impacted by significant radiation.

Solar Flares cause damage to networks

When a sudden pulse hits those networks and communications signals, we are never sure what the outcome will be, from a minor blip in the signal, to a disrupted network, and even the potential to shut down a network if the interruption becomes too severe.

This has the potential to go from a slight annoyance if your phone call starts to sound like you are talking underwater, but nothing too serious, all the way up to a major disruption to something like the electricity grid, which could shut down in self preservation mode, leaving us with no power and no communications, and that also means no WiFi!

Solar Storms can be serious!

This is not just a scare tactic, there is a risk that a widespread burst of radiation could cause multiple systems to suddenly become unstable and trigger off all sorts of different alarms such as warnings, reduced signal, and even complete shutdown.

The problem is that we rarely get the opportunity to test multiple system issues all occurring at the same time, and usually systems’ testing is only done on individual systems in case of local emergencies or power failure.  If multiple systems were to trigger warnings all at the same time, and if these warning systems were to trigger yet more warnings or shut downs, then there is potential for the problem to spiral into a much bigger issue.

This should not be viewed as a major problem, as the systems have built in self protection, and they are designed to restart as soon as possible, with as little fuss as possible.

The problem is if many systems become disrupted at the same time, the human element can take over and panic is a very real risk of taking over.  We need to be aware that the systems are designed with protection from external damage, and we just need to be patient and allow the system to take care of itself.

There is no need to panic!

Instead maybe we could use a little quiet time to reflect on the forces of nature that surround us, and to appreciate our place in the wider world.

When the lights go out, there is no cause for alarm, rather it should be an opportunity to reflect on the wonders of nature.  Solar flares also cause the wonderful natural phenomenon of the polar auroras, which light up the sky with brilliant color and light shows.


What is an Aurora?

Auroras light up the night sky in ethereal, brilliant colors.  Auroras are generated by the plasma which is ejected from a Solar Flare.  The highly charged plasma ions traverse space for millions of kilometers before smashing into Earth’s magnetic field, causing an electromagnetic storm.

Along with potentially causing disruption to power grids and satellites, the storm also produces the incredible colors and spectacle of the aurora.  Just think, if we never had to worry about solar flares, then we would never be treated to such an incredible light show either!


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