Solar flare causes strongest radiation storm on Earth since 2017

June 11, 2024  17:16

On June 8, there was an M-class solar flare, which is a high, but not extreme, class of event. This M9.7 flare caused the strongest radiation storm on Earth since 2017, classified as S3. This level poses a biological hazard for passengers on high-altitude flights and crews, as well as for astronauts in open space. These events will become more frequent as the peak of solar activity approaches, reports.

The M9.7 flare last Saturday, in addition to causing auroras in the northern latitudes of Earth, disrupted shortwave radio communications on the sunlit side of the planet and, more dangerously, caused a strong radiation storm on the sunlit side and in space. On Earth, flight crews at risk of entering zones of increased radiation were instructed to change their routes. No satellite system failures have been reported, but satellites are particularly vulnerable to gamma and X-ray radiation from flares, as well as to plasma from coronal mass ejections (CMEs) from the Sun.

Another danger to terrestrial infrastructure is the induction of direct currents in long metal structures when they move within Earth's magnetic field, which occurs when the field is disturbed by solar wind (flares). Energy companies are already prepared for this. Everyone was impressed by the 1989 incident when a geomagnetic storm melted a transformer at a substation in Quebec, Canada.

It is much more challenging to detect the impact of solar activity on pipelines. The induction of currents in pipes accelerates corrosion, which is very difficult to detect, especially in underground infrastructure. Railway signaling can also suffer from solar activity, as currents can be easily induced in the rails. Additionally, the global navigation system is affected. We are beginning to experience all these "delights" with increasing intensity. This time, the peak of solar activity might start six months earlier—already in the fall of 2024.

In May 2024, the maximum intensity of solar flares reached X12, which even affected space weather on Mars. During this time, a wave of auroras swept across Earth, visible in Russia even in the Krasnodar region. Charged particles from the Sun bombarded Earth, and along magnetic field lines, they headed toward the poles. Since Earth's magnetic field flattened under the significant pressure of the solar wind, its intensity at the equator increased, causing auroras to shift to lower latitudes.

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