Science

Magnetic Storm Could Disrupt Essential Services On March 18

Magnetic Storm
Buddy_Nath / Pixabay

The Earth experienced several geomagnetic storms in 2017. Now scientists at the Russian Academy of Sciences have warned that a massive magnetic storm is going to hit the Earth on Sunday, March 18th. If it happens, it will be the third magnetic storm of this year. Russian scientists said that it could potentially disrupt essential services such as telecommunications, power, and navigation. It could also have an adverse effect on our health.

According to scientists (via DenOfGeek), the high-speed solar wind has been escaping through a tear in the Sun’s northern atmosphere. It creates a stream of charged particles that take 3-4 days to reach the Earth. Besides affecting the human body and essential services, it causes some brilliant auroras around the Arctic Circle. Auroras occur when electrically charged solar particles hit the atoms and molecules in the Earth’s magnetosphere, causing them to light up.

The Sun continuously releases heat and radiation, some of which is necessary to support life on our planet. However, it also bombards the Earth with loads of harmful radiation. The Earth’s magnetosphere protects us from the harmful radiation. Sometimes, major solar events such as storms and flares send a lot of high-speed radiation towards Earth. A magnetic storm or geomagnetic storm forms when the high-intensity radiation interacts with the magnetosphere.

In short, magnetic storms are temporary disturbances in the Earth’s magnetosphere due to the exchange of energy from the solar wind.

Magnetic storms usually cause radar blackouts, upset radio communications, and disrupt the radio navigation systems. But they also have the potential to change the blood flow, blood pressure, and adrenaline levels in living organisms.  According to the Russian Academy of Sciences, the March 18 magnetic storm could cause dizziness, headache, and sleep disturbances to some people around the world.

The geomagnetic storms can also affect the power grids. Sometimes, power companies are advised to prepare for possible power fluctuations or even shut down non-essential systems when there is a major storm. Last month’s magnetic storm had forced the Space Weather Prediction Center to switch from their main spacecraft Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR). According to the European Union’s Joint Research Center (JRC), powerful magnetic storms could even affect the navigation and control systems of their railway network.

The biggest magnetic storm ever recorded occurred in 1859. It’s known as the Carrington Event. According to NASA, it had occurred during a solar maximum which was about the same size as the one the Earth is entering now. It had destroyed a large chunk of electric equipment around the world. A similar event today would cause even more severe damage as we have become overly reliant on technology and advanced equipment. It could disturb the wireless communications, air travel, GPS navigation, national security, power grids, and a lot more.

Scientists recently modeled the Earth data in 3D to forecast the impacts of magnetic storms more accurately. In the past, they relied on one-dimensional data, which wasn’t highly accurate. The US Geological Survey says the 3D data leads to measurements that are significantly different and more complete compared to the previous one-dimensional models. The 3D data helps scientists determine which sites are more vulnerable to blackouts during geomagnetic storms, reports Space.com