Learn how solar weather can affect your life

Solar storms have been on the rise in recent years and many have heard that this is due to the sun's reaching its solar max peak in solar activity, but did you know that solar storms can affect your life in a big way and there are things you can do to protect yourself? First and foremost though, you must learn a few important facts in order to understand the nature of solar storms and how they can affect your life.

To begin with, there are a few key terms regarding solar weather that you should be aware of, pertinent terms relating to current space weather and how it can affect the average individual's life, or your life to be specific.

Two successive photos of a solar flare phenomenon. The solar disk was blocked in these photos for better visualization of the flare prominence.

Solar Flare

This is a term that seems overused quite often and is not always used with the correct definition in mind. A solar flare, in its most simple interpretation, is an explosion of magnetic energy on the sun’s surface causing a bright flash of light. The energy released from this explosion travels at the speed of light and arrives here at our planet in about 8 minutes time.

Generally, a solar flare only affects satellites and radio communications and has little to no effect on the average person's life. Flares are measured on a scale of A,B,C,M and X, A being the smallest and X being the largest. Even flares of the largest size, an X, are little concern for people down on ground level aside from persons on aircraft or boats who may lose radio communication.

Unfortunately, flares sometimes come with strings attached in the way of CMEs, short for coronal mass ejections, that often coincide with the eruption of a flare, especially larger flares and long duration flares called LDEs (long duration events).

A coronal mass ejection in time-lapse imagery obtained with the LASCO instrument. The Sun (center) is obscured by the coronagraph's mask. (September 30 – October 1, 2001)

Coronal Mass Ejection (CME)

A coronal mass ejection is a large cloud of super hot and electrically charged plasma that erupts from the surface of the sun and expands out into the solar system. These events often coincide with solar flares and, although they can both happen independently, frequently a large solar flare will have an associated large CME.

The problem with CMEs is that they have a much deeper impact on us than solar flares do. A CME is much slower than a solar flare, usually taking 1-5 days to reach Earth, but can have effects that last for days after making contact. When a coronal mass ejection reaches our planet, it puts pressure on the Earth’s magnetosphere (our magnetic shield that protects us from radiation and solar winds). As the cloud presses around us, plasma and energy are caught up and collected in the tail of our magnetosphere. When the tail becomes saturated, it “snaps” and dumps all that collected electric energy and plasma into our atmosphere creating the breath-taking aurora borealis and, another one of our important terms, geomagnetic storms.

Artist's depiction of solar wind particles interacting with Earth's magnetosphere. Sizes are not to scale.

Geomagnetic Storm

The geomagnetic storm is a major player in the solar weather that can affect your life. Geomagnetic storming is an increased amount of energy or electric current in our magnetosphere and atmosphere. A storm like this can cause several problems including rendering compasses useless and disrupting radio and radar functioning, but perhaps the most problematic result of geomagnetic storming is the ground induced currents, or GICs.

During a geomagnetic storm the air is basically filled with electric energy trying to find a way to the ground and the energy is collected by anything conductive that can serve as a ground. Unfortunately, the long power lines we have all across the world are a prime target for this energy. As the energy feeds into the long cables and is then fed into the power grid, it can overload transformers causing cascading power outages that can affect vast areas such as entire states or even entire countries. Not only does it cause black outs, but also the power outages it causes can last for long periods of time as the transformers can be permanently damaged or destroyed. Many of these transformers can take weeks, months or even years to replace and are upwards of a million dollars apiece.

The above are only a few examples of how solar storms can affect the average person. Others are radiation exposure in air planes, damage to home electronics, GPS error or malfunctions, and increased risk of heart attack and stroke, just to name a few. The point is that knowing about these storms and what they can cause is the first step in being prepared to deal with them. The next step is learning what things you can do to prepare for what can happen and how you can minimize the threat and damage these storms can cause. Simply familiarizing yourself with solar storms and taking preparatory measures such as building up a food and water storage sufficient for your needs are a great start.

Other wise steps would be to subscribe to FlareAware phone text and voice alert service for the most recent updates and alerts that can save you time and money by keeping you ahead of the curve and to follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Get the information you need and start preparing for solar storms now.

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