A huge solar flare is heading towards Earth, what are the risks?

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The sun is one of the most scrutinized and studied objects in the vicinity of the Earth. And for good reason: the star can cause great damage when a solar flare – in other words a massive ejection of charged particles at very high speed – reaches the infrastructures on Earth. Our planet is protected against most of the harmful health effects of these particle ejections. The Earth can count on a powerful magnetic field which protects us, almost like a shield, against these heavenly moods.

But sometimes some eruptions are so powerful that the interaction with the Earth’s magnetic field can cause the destruction of electronic infrastructures. This type of eruption occurs periodically, but for its effects to be truly destructive, the ejection of matter must take place in a precise direction, such that the particles can cross the Earth’s orbit and hit the Earth head-on. The last time such a type of eruption was recorded was between September 1 and 2, 1859. At the time, communication and energy transport infrastructures were much less developed.

Solar flares can in some cases destroy critical infrastructure on Earth

However, when the particles reached the magnetosphere, large areas found themselves without electricity, with in some cases the destruction of installations and lines. Portions of the telegraph networks in Europe and North America were also damaged, with some cases of fire outbreaks. Other stations managed during the storm to transmit messages even after the power to the system was cut, thanks to the currents induced by the geomagnetic storm.

In 2022, the infrastructures exposed to the geomagnetic risk are much more numerous. As well as our dependence on them. There is of course the issue of the power grid, with many overhead lines, transformer stations and other facilities not protected against these extreme events. But also the infrastructure necessary for the functioning of the global Internet. Not to mention satellites, which can be damaged or even destroyed by the arrival of charged particles from the sun even more easily than installations on Earth.

The main risks of a solar flare are therefore numerous power cuts all over the world, but especially in high latitudes (Northern Europe, Russia, China, Japan, North America, South America, part of the continent Africa, Australia…), in addition to the probable destruction of essential communication infrastructures. A solar storm can also cause destruction of everyday electronic devices in the most exposed areas.

However, for several weeks astronomers around the world have been observing a sunspot, called AR3038. These dark spots on the surface of our star betray areas of high activity that can give rise to an eruption. Until a few days ago, observers thought that this Earth-oriented task would eventually disappear. But instead, the spot tripled in size, before a huge eruption was seen.

Read also – A solar flare captured on video, a rare phenomenon [Vidéo]

It is heading in the direction of Earth, but it is difficult to say exactly whether these charged particles will actually cross our planet. The NASA observatory, which usually predicts the dangerousness of these phenomena, suffered a power cut at a critical moment in the observations, so that it is not possible to calculate the exact trajectory of this ejection. . Nevertheless, we should quickly get to the bottom of it. According to the approximations available, this eruption should hypothetically reach the Earth during the day of Thursday June 29, 2022, that is to say today.