What Is a Solar Flare and How Could It Impact Us on Earth?


A solar flare is a massive explosion that happens on the Sun’s surface. These flares are often very bright and can be seen with the naked eye. They are caused by the release of energy from the Sun’s magnetic field. Solar flares can cause a lot of damage to Earth, including radio blackouts. This article will discuss what solar flares are and how they could potentially cause problems for us here on Earth.

Solar flares are often categorized by their strength. The weakest solar flares are called A-class flares, while the strongest ones are called X-class flares. Solar flares can cause a lot of damage to Earth, including radio blackouts. In this article, we will discuss what solar flares are and how they could potentially cause problems for us here on Earth.

What could solar flares mean for us on Earth?

How could a rare event like a solar flare have an impact for us here on planet earth? The risks consist of but are not limited to the following bullets:

  • Solar flares can interfere with radio broadcasts
  • Solar flares could interrupt navigation systems
  • Solar flares could cause grid fluctuations
  • Solar flares might affect car electronics
  • Solar flares can disrupt communication satellites
  • Solar flares might cause power outages
Coronal Mass Ejection - NASA
Image: NASA / STEREO science team

A solar flare can cause a radio blackout by emitting radiation that interferes with the Earth’s ionosphere. The ionosphere is a layer of the atmosphere that helps to protect us from harmful radiation from space. When a solar flare emits radiation, it can disrupt the ionosphere and interfere with communications signals. This can cause problems for people who rely on satellite communications, such as airline pilots and astronauts.

The Sun is constantly releasing energy in the form of solar flares. These solar flares release a burst of electromagnetic radiation that can interfere with radio broadcasts, navigation systems, grid fluctuations, car electronics, and communication satellites. Solar flares can also cause power outages. While solar flares are not typically a major threat, they can occasionally cause some disruption. For example, solar flares caused a power outage in Quebec in 1989 and disrupted airline communication in December 2006. It’s important to be aware of the potential risks associated with solar flares so that you’re prepared if one does occur.

Solar Corona - NASA
Image: NASA / STEREO science team

A solar flare is a sudden release of energy from the Sun’s surface. The energy is released in the form of light, x-rays, and particles. The likelihood that we will experience problems because of solar flares depends on the severity of the flare and its location. The most severe solar flares are called “X-class” flares, and they can cause extensive damage to satellites, power grids, and communication systems.

Such solar flares could also cause radio blackouts. This happens when the high-energy particles released by the solar flare collide with Earth’s atmosphere. The collision creates a disturbance in the Earth’s magnetic field that disrupts radio signals. Radio blackouts caused by solar flares usually only last for a few minutes, but they can be disruptive to communication systems.

Do we know of any solar flare incidents in history?

The solar flare that occurred in March 2013 caused a radio blackout that disrupted air traffic control communications. The solar flare also interfered with satellite-based navigation systems and cell phone service. So far, there have been no reported problems from the solar flare that occurred in September 2017, but it’s possible that we could experience some disruptions in the coming days or weeks.

Solar Flare and Coronal Mass Ejection - NASA
Image: NASA / STEREO science team

In order to prepare for potential disruptions caused by solar flares, we need to be aware of the risks they pose and have a plan in place for what we will do if there is a significant outage. Some things we could do to prepare include the following points:

  • Stocking up on food and water supplies
  • Having backup generators available
  • Make sure all important documents are safe or that there are backups in place
  • Be cautious about using car technology that might be affected, such as GPS

Do we need to be afraid of solar flares? Some people are afraid that a solar flare could disable technology for good and not just disrupt it temporarily. While solar flares can indeed cause some problems, it is highly unlikely that they will bring down all technology. In the event of a solar flare, we should still be able to rely on technology to a certain degree. For example, while GPS might not work perfectly during a solar flare, we would still be able to use our phones to find our way.

Expert insight on solar flare risks

So it appears that we are more or less safe, but we need to manage the risk according to the likelihood of this happening and the potential severity of the impact if something happens. In an Electric Infrastructure Security (EIS) Summit speech British Secretary of Defence Liam Fox said:

“Let me turn now to the potential threats from natural phenomena and explain how these can also have an impact on our nation’s defense. NASA’s recent study of space weather has informed our growing understanding of the potentially catastrophic consequences that can be caused by severe solar flares. These are thankfully rare, but history has attributed a number of infrastructure disruptions coinciding with peaks in the solar cycle.

The Sun Flares Up - NASA
Image: Scott Wiessinger (NASA) / Solar Dynamics Observatory at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Perhaps most at risk is the cross-cutting space sector. Much of our critical national infrastructure depends on data and services delivered from or through satellites whose sensitive electronics are vulnerable to some of the radiation emitted by the Sun. Satellite operators recognize the effects of space weather, and the aviation industry has long been aware of the risk of exposing passengers to harmful levels of radiation at high altitudes during severe solar events. However, effects on terrestrial infrastructure may be less obvious to service providers, such as the disruption to power networks, transport, telephone lines, and essential services to our homes, businesses, and government offices.

The hazards posed to our critical national infrastructure are reflected in recent work by the cabinet office. Work has been underway there to assess the risk of severe space weather for the national risk assessment against which business continuity plans are developed.” So we need not be afraid but evaluate this risk and plan for any such disruptions with proper resiliency and contingency plans.

YouTube: X-Class – A Guide to Solar Flares (NASA)

Photo credit: All images shown are owned by NASA and were distributed through their press portal.

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Christopher Isak
Christopher Isakhttps://techacute.com
Hi there and thanks for reading my article! I'm Chris the founder of TechAcute. I write about technology news and share experiences from my life in the enterprise world. Drop by on Twitter and say 'hi' sometime. ;)
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