Solar solar flares (keep in mind that
Solar Flares have been causing problems for technologically based societies since 1859, when there was nothing besides mere telegraph wires connecting neighborhoods. There was no way of monitoring the sun with ultraviolet wavelengths and x-rays. The Carrington Event, named after Richard Carrington who had been watching the sun, observed as a massive blast of energy shot from the sun straight at Earth.
The Earth was hit with so much energy that telegraph wires lit on fire, operators were shocked, and when machines were unplugged they kept transmitting. If something like this happened today; satellites, power grids, and communications systems are all at risk from the energetic particles and the associated electromagnetic effects of these eruptions. Every semblance of technology would be fried, and it would take more than a decade to be even close to normal. Dense areas of magnetism called sunspots contain highly active magnetic fields and particle flows. When these fields cross each other or become disturbed, these particles can surge to nearly the speed of light; releasing x-ray energy, which is called a solar flare. This can have energizing effects on our technology, but the Earth’s atmosphere and ozone layer do a fantastic job of protecting the surface of the Earth. Currently, solar flares are rated on a logarithmic scale with the ratings A B C M X. A being the lowest, X the highest, and there is no threat to the Earth until the M class.
Although, in the past few years the sun has been quieting down, and many professionals believed solar weather posed no threat. Then in 2015 the Earth was hit with M class solar flares (keep in mind that the Carrington event was an X level flare) and a few years prior the Earth had been hit with X level flares; however, nothing significant occurred. When hit with these M class solar flares, flights in New Zealand had to be grounded, transformers ignited, and power grids failed. What caused a weaker class solar flare to do so much damage? Currently there are two prevailing ideas, first is that the sun has been weakening in its activity in general, causing calmer conditions. Perhaps even a smaller solar flare presents a large change in those conditions, meaning that small solar events can be a larger threat to Earth. The second idea involves Earth’s magnetic poles. Earth’s poles are actually shifting, which causes a weakening of the Earth’s magnetic fields. Which puts the Earth in danger because the magnetic field is the shield against solar flares and supernovas.
Currently, the magnetic field is weakening 5% per decade. In our experiment, we want to delve deeper into the solar flare effects on Earth, and see the usual intensities of solar flares that attack our planet. For our experiment we created a soda bottle magnetometer to measure Earth’s magnetic field. The magnetometer is made out of a two liter soda bottle that had an index card hanging inside of it. We attached a mirror and a bar magnet to the index card. Then, we shone a laser pointer onto the mirror and had it reflect on a wall.
The laser pointed at the 15 cm mark at the beginning of the experiment. We then measured the position of the laser for two periods, during period one we observed the data for only 7am and for period two we observed the data for 6 hours, ranging from 5pm to 11pm. The changes in the magnetic field which affected the bar magnet would cause it to move. After finishing our measurements, we would compare them with readings off a solar weather website and check if we were correct. Changes in the magnetic field can be measured indoors that’s why our experiment was set up not outside by inside.
When magnetic storms occur, one can observe the direction of the magnet move, therefore moving the entire index card, by several centimeters within a few hours. Afterwards the index card would return to its normal orientation pointing towards the magnetic north pole, indicating the effects of the solar flare has depleted. After we gathered information on how many centimeters the laser pointer moved by, we used a mathematical equation ( on the left ) to decipher the angle in degrees the laser moved by. The angular deflection one will see on the wall will equal twice the actual angular deflection of the magnet and its deviation from magnetic north. The greater the deviation the stronger the solar flare.Solar Flares have 5 distinct ratings starting from A class (the weakest) and peaking at X class.
Each letter represents a 10-fold increase in their output of energy. For example, an X is ten times an M-class and 100 times a C-class. Furthermore, within each class there is a more astute scale of 1-9. In between A and X class, there are B, C, and M ratings; C-class and smaller flares are too weak to affect Earth. M-class flares can cause radio blackouts at the poles and cause radiation storms which could pose a threat to astronauts.
X flares are extremely powerful as they can exceed the rating of nine on the scale. Furthermore, when solar flares occur, they extend out to the layer of the Sun called the corona. Which is the outermost layer of the Sun, the corona is made up of highly rarefied gas. This gas generally has a temperature of million degrees Kelvin.
Inside a solar flare, the temperature can reach upwards of 10 or 20 million degrees Kelvin, and can be as high as 100 million degrees Kelvin. The corona is visible in soft x-rays, and it is not very uniformly bright, but concentrates around the solar equator in a loop shaped features. These loops are found in areas where strong magnetic fields exist, called active regions. The overall frequency of solar flares coincide with the Sun’s 11 year cycle. When the cycle is at a low, active regions are minute, rare, and very few solar flares can be detected. Eventually, the number of solar flares increases as the Sun reaches the maximum part of its cycle. It is impossible for a person to view a solar flare by staring at the sun. Flares, in fact, are impossible to see because of the bright emission from the photosphere.
To view solar flares, specialized scientific instruments are used to detect radiation signatures which are discharged during a solar flare. The radio and optical discharges from flares can be studied with telescopes on Earth. However, energetic releases such as x-rays and gamma rays require a telescope located in space, because these emissions don’t pierce the atmosphere of the Earth. Recently, the US space agency confirmed that the Earth’s poles are shifting which would have compasses point South if the magnetic poles shift.
Climate researchers believe the Earth is on track towards a reversal of the planet’s magnetic field, something that has occurred before and has been attributed to be responsible for the wiping out of the Neanderthal species. Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator at the University of Colorado said, “When the switch does take place, the Earth’s magnetic field which prevents the Sun’s dangerous radiation getting through, would be neutralised for around 200 years” (Austin 1). He also said that, “Mars had been blasted by solar wings, which had stripped it of its atmosphere, for billions of years since the beginnings of our solar system.” (Austin 1). During the absence of the magnetic field, solar flares are expected to strip away at the atmosphere as they did on Mars. However, Mr.
Jakosky also explained that the 200 years would not be long enough for life to completely die out on Earth. In addition, scientists expect that without the magnetic field there would be some dangerous implications. For example, the thinning of the atmosphere could increase the risk from skin cancer, also global communications facilities and power supplies would be destroyed. Records created by geologists display that hundreds of pole reversals have occurred in Earth’s history.
These reversals are caused by patches of iron atoms in the Earth’s liquid core becoming reverse-aligned. Think as if they were small magnets oriented in the opposite direction to the other atoms surrounding them. If these reversed ions expand to the stage where they can overpower the others, the Earth’s magnetic field flips. Monika Korte, the scientific director or the Niemegk Geomagnetic Observatory at GFZ Potsdam in Germany, explained: “It’s not a sudden flip, but a slow process, during which the field strength becomes weak, very probably the field becomes more complex and might show more than two poles for a while, and then builds up in strength and aligns in the opposite direction” (Austin 3).