Bite Sized Science: Solar Storms

By Kirsty Robathan

Solar  FlareLast night the sun unleashed an X5 class solar flare which seems to be bounding towards Earth.  An X class flare is the strongest category of solar flares, usually accompanied by Coronal Mass Ejections (CME) which are essentially bursts of solar wind.  These flares come in 5 classes, A, B, C, M and X with A being the smallest, X being the largest. These CME are dark areas on the surface of the sun (photosphere) where the magnetic activity shows convection and then cools the photosphere hence producing charged particles.
For the northern hemisphere this is shown in the form of the ‘Aurora Borealis’, whilst in the southern hemisphere it is known as the ‘Aurora Australis’, this gorgeous light show is the by product of the sun ejecting charged particles on their  way to earth it would result in a geomagnetic storm that can interfere Earth’s magnetosphere.  These charged particles are ionize and cause radiation of high energy protons.
Solar storms have the potential to disrupt satellites, communications systems, sometimes power grids and technology based on the ground.  Satellites use parts of the atmosphere to bounce signals around Earth bit this can be hinder when the charged particles are going through our atmosphere. Although this all sounds rather scary, the sun continuously goes through cycles of around 11-12 years, where its activity peaks and creates these stunning natural phenomena that will not cause or have caused any apolocalyptic destruction.
Space weather reports have not confirmed exactly any conclusions and predictions are being refined. However the best guess seems to be that it will minor blow rather than directly hit Earth. These predictions are hard to make for an accurate forecast because of the spread of solar disturbances to Earth.
Kp levels (K-index) allows for a calculated, quantifiable number to assess how dramatic a solar storm could be. It is on a scale of 0-9, with 1 being calm and 5 and above being ‘storm level’. Living in Kp levels between 4-7 mean that Scotland, and Northern parts of England can see the Aurora, whilst for Southern parts, the Kp levels need be around 9. So, keep a look out over the coming nights to hopefully catch this and hopefully it will come down as far as Southern England and Wales.

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