Every 11 years, the sun experiences a dramatic spike in weather activity known as a “solar storm” that produces dramatic explosions and massive eruptions visible from Earth. As we are currently in one of the highly volatile periods, many individuals wonder if these storms can or do affect us here down on Earth. For the budding astronomer in all of us, here is a rundown of a few basics regarding solar storms.
First, the term solar storm refers to various weather activity related to the sun. Experts at NASA claim there are at least three forms of solar activity that can lead to repercussions down on Earth. Solar flares, coronal mass ejections, and storms of solar energetic particles have the potential to be palpable on our planet.
When intense bursts of radiation spew into space from the sun, this solar flare sends particles out of the sun’s atmosphere and are detectable within our atmosphere a few days later. Large explosions have even been known to reach our planet within a few hours. Coronal mass ejections are not visible to the naked eye, as with solar flares, but have the potential ability to interfere with magnetic fields. Both of these events can lead to radiation storms on the surface of the sun.
While all of the sun’s activity sounds particularly volatile, it actually poses very little threat of danger to inhabitants of Earth. The high energy solar energetic particles may be hazardous to astronauts and airplane crews that are at very high altitudes, but most of us don’t have anything to worry about. The main threat of this increased solar storm activity has to do with long-term increased radiation around the Earth’s magnetic poles. This can interfere with communications, electrical power generation, or even cause blackouts.