A surprising solar storm hit the Earth with over 2,500,000 km / h

This phenomenon of moderate intensity was not threatening, but the fact that it went completely unnoticed disturbed the researchers.

Recently, astronomy enthusiasts were able to revel in an extremely rare sight with the alignment of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, all lined up in a row of bulbs in their order of proximity to the Sun – an event that had not taken place since 1864. But in the northern hemisphere, the play was sometimes “photobombed” by a phenomenon that was also magnificent, but quite unexpected at this time: the northern lights.

These magnificent skylights are relatively frequent; on the other hand, they are much rarer to occur without warning. This is because they are directly related to a cosmological phenomenon that astronomers see with particular attention: solar flare and geomagnetic storms which result.

In short, a solar flare is nothing more or less than a large emission of particularly intense light. They occur after an upheaval in the Sun’s magnetic field. But they can also be associated with what is called coronal mass emissions or CMEs.

The geomagnetic storms that cause the Northern Lights usually come from coronal mass emissions, plasma bubbles emanating from sunspots. © SDO / HMI

Astronomers keep an eye …

During these events, a bubble of overheated charged particles (we are talking about plasma) is catapulted at high speed in a certain direction. Sometimes these eruptions can shoot directly at the Earth. The particles then collide with the Earth’s magnetic field, which serves as a shield against these phenomena. This current of solar plasma then crashes into the upper atmosphere, which can sometimes give rise to northern lights.

But the most powerful of them can break through this shield and have noticeable effects. Not directly to humans, but to electrical installations and electronic equipment. This is, for example, what happened around the Easter weekend, when moderate solar flares caused some radio failure on Earth (see our article).

And that’s precisely why NASA is diligently monitoring the dynamics of solar cells. For in some rare cases, unusually intense EMCs are quite capable of grill half of the world’s electronic infrastructure in a few moments with all the catastrophic consequences it entails.

An example of a solar flare caught on March 30 by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. © NASA / GSFC / SDO

… but they were still surprised

The agency had therefore anticipated the blackouts of the Easter weekend. The storm on June 26, on the other hand, surprised everyone. No astronomer predicted its arrival as it crashed into Earth’s magnetic shield frontally at a staggering top speed measured at 2.52 million km / h – almost double the average, according to NASA.

Fortunately, according to the Spaceweather.com report discovered by LiveScience, the intensity of this geomagnetic storm remained quite moderate despite its speed; in any case, no blackouts or damage to the infrastructure have been reported. For the general public, the story ends here. On the other hand, for researchers, it is an event that sends shivers down the spine.

They spend so much time looking at sunspots just to avoid being confronted with a fait accompli at the last minute should a storm of critical intensity hit the Earth.

There is therefore enough to be at the same time relieved to have had a narrow escape, but also concerned to have missed this information. A bit like a pedestrian who has gone into thoughts escaping a frontal collision with a heavy weight in the extremis.

A CME from an unexpected area

Since then, the challenge has been to determine why and how this storm could have been so discreet. And astronomers finally think they have a satisfactory answer; to them, this geomagnetic storm was simply not part of a sunspot.

They consider the outbreak to have happened in what is called one co-rotating interaction area or CIR. This corresponds to an output of road junctions where extremely fast solar winds cross, and others slower. This interaction between charged particles can give rise to an accumulation of plasma, which can then be thrown out like a cannonball during a jerk in the magnetic field.

But unlike sunspots, astronomers do not routinely monitor these CIRs, which is why it surprised everyone. This story therefore reinforces the idea that it is very unwise to simply monitor sunspots; it is necessary examine the Sun as a whole with many different techniques.

This would therefore make it possible to be warned as soon as possible in the event of a catastrophic outbreak of this type Carrington Event (see our article) took place. This would not fundamentally change the situation as humanity, as it stands, remains largely powerless over the whims of its fetish star. But in such a catastrophic context, the slightest minute can make a difference when it comes to protect certain vital systems for humanity.

In any case, the message is clear: we will have to keep our eyes wide open as we approach the next peak of solar activity expected between 2023 and 2026.

Leave a Comment