‘Crack’ appears in Earth’s magnetic field as solar winds batter planet at 400km per second

Solar storm could cause ‘catastrophic damage’ to UK

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Space weather forecasters have clocked the solar winds at impressive speeds of about 400 km per second – nearly 895,000 mph. The solar winds were first spotted escaping the Sun on July 25, when NASA’s SDO spacecraft detected a “sinuous hole” in the Sun’s uppermost regions. Our planet is now passing through this stream of electrically charged particles and plasma, which has led to some “geomagnetic unrest” today (July 28).

Although the stream is not expected to trigger a full-blown solar storm, it has caused some minor disturbance within the magnetosphere.

The magnetosphere is the region of space around Earth that is dominated by the planet’s magnetic field.

According to the website SpaceWeather.com, Earth ploughed into the solar stream early on Wednesday, July 28.

The website said: “Earth is entering a stream of solar winds flowing ~400 km/s from a sinuous hole in the Sun’s atmosphere.

“First contact during the early hours of July 28 opened a crack in Earth’s magnetic field, sparking an hours-long episode of minor (KP=4) geomagnetic unrest.”

Solar winds can reach the planet in a matter of days and possibly turn into a geomagnetic (solar) storm when they get tangled with the planet’s magnetic field.

When this happens, space forecasters warn of potential disturbances in the power grid and satellite operations.

The US Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) explained: “The interaction between the solar wind and Earth’s magnetic field, and the influence of the underlying atmosphere and ionosphere, creates various regions of fields, plasmas, and currents inside the magnetosphere such as the plasmasphere, the ring current, and radiation belts.

“The consequence is that conditions inside the magnetosphere are highly dynamic and create what we call ‘space weather’ that can affect technological systems and human activities.”

Anything above a KP index of four (KP=4) has the potential to start a solar storm, with a KP=5 event considered a G1 Minor event.

Even a minor storm can cause “weak power grid fluctuations” and affect migratory animals and create beautiful auroras.

NASA scientist explains what solar wind is

A G3 Strong storm (KP=7), on the other hand, may increase drag on low-Earth orbit satellites and cause intermittent disruptions to GPS and radio communications.

At the G5 Extreme (KP=9) end of the scale, the SWPC said “voltage control problems and protective system problems can occur, some grid systems may experience complete collapse or blackouts”.

This can be particularly problematic for aircraft that rely on ground-to-air communications.

Scientists also believe a bout of unfortunate space weather disrupted emergency services in 2017 after the Category 5 Hurricane Irma devastated a number of Caribbean islands.

According to a study published in Space Weather, a journal of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), amateur radio operators saw their equipment go down for parts of the day when Irma struck on September 6.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed the blackout was caused by the “brightest and most powerful solar flare” observed in about a decade.

NOAA said in a report: “The hurricane and solar flare were coincidental but unrelated.

“The radio blackout affected the entire sunlit region of Earth.”

Luckily for us, the SWPC does not expect any major or minor disturbances in the coming days.

In its three-day forecast, the SWPC said: “No G1 (Minor) or greater geomagnetic storms are expected.

“No significant transient or recurrent solar wind features are forecast.”

Solar winds are also associated with the beautiful phenomenon of aurora.

In the Northern Hemisphere, these appear as the Northern Light or the Aurora Borealis.

South of the equator, these are known as the Southern Lights or Aurora Australis.

The polar lights are caused by the charged particles from the Sun exciting molecules of gas in the atmosphere, causing them to give off the excess energy in the form of light.

However, SpaceWeather.com noted: “So far, no auroras have been reported.”

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