The weather on earth is ever-changing. It can be calm, quiet, and beautiful at one time; the next time, all you can see is the havoc and damages brought by the weather. Interestingly, uniqueness and changes in weather don’t only occur on our planet earth; each outer planet experiences the same. Like the havoc on earth, there are disturbances within the space, thanks to the space weather. So, what exactly is space weather? What solar activities drive space weather? Can space weather be harmful? Can you get a space weather forecast? Keep reading to find out the answers to these questions.
Space Weather: What is It?
Space weather is a type of weather brought by the activity on the sun’s surface. Importantly, space weather impacts both the earth and other planets. Besides, in extreme cases, it can cause several damages on earth, such as on satellites, or even cause electric blackouts. Notably, the earth’s magnetic fluid and the atmosphere protect us from space weather.
The weather we experience on earth occurs round the clock, is ever-changing, and can damage human life and technology. The same is true with space weather. However, space and earth are different; hence they cannot have similar weather types. The earth’s weather consists of moving air and water molecules. On the other hand, Space weather has magnetic fields, electromagnetic radiations, plasma, and charged particles from the sun. Therefore, it is evident that the sun drives both earth weather and space weather. However, what specific activities are connected with this?
Read: Influence of Space Radiation on Space Exploration
Solar Activities That Drive the Space Weather
The variety in sun behavior and eruptions in space drives space weather. These solar activities are:
- Solar Flares
These are blob-shaped flashes of light that appear suddenly and have very high brightness. However, you cannot see most of their energy using your naked eyes. Nonetheless, the energy consists of strong UV and X-ray radiations.
What happens if the solar flares are directed to our planet earth? If this happens, it will interfere with radio communications. Nonetheless, the X-rays can lead to low-orbiting satellites losing altitude. This is because the X-rays can heat the outer atmosphere. Nonetheless, scientists and astronauts are concerned with solar flares. They can be dangerous for human missions to space.
Until now, scientists’ information regarding solar flares is on how they get their energy. However, the mechanisms they use to do this are not yet understood well. What’s more, there is a lack of enough methods of predicting solar flares; hence knowing which region of the sun will have a flare at what time is not easy.
- Solar Energetic Particles
These are storms of high-energy protons and electrons shot by the sun to space. They have a high speed and can travel to the earth in an hour. What’s more, they are so intense that they can penetrate the earth’s magnetic field layers and at times even reach the surface.
What would happen if these solar energetic particles were to strike our earth? The effects would be adverse, especially to air travelers. They can damage electronics onboard planes, exposing air travelers to high radiation.
- Coronal Mass Ejections
These are eruptions on the sun’s surface that blast away large parts of the corona. Unlike solar energetic particles, which are fast enough to reach the earth within an hour, these coronal mass ejections are much slower and take between 1-4 days to reach the earth. However, their effects cause more concerns.
Read: Effects of Spaceflight on the Human Body
When they reach the earth, they create a geomagnetic storm that simultaneously compresses and extends the sides of the earth’s magnetosphere. When it finally adjusts, the tension goes to the upper atmosphere. Mass power outages, and lack of communication services, e.g. GPS, are some of the outcomes of coronal mass ejections. In very extreme cases, the power outage can go on for years.
Can Space Weather Be Harmful?
Unfortunately, there are instances when the space weather is harmful. An example is when the magnetic activity within the sun leads to intense solar storms. During such solar storms, the solar wind is stronger, and the stronger they are, the more dangerous they become.
Nonetheless, solar flares can break during a solar storm. Huge solar eruptions called coronal mass ejections can accompany them. What is the effect of all this extra radiation? It can damage satellites that are useful for communication and navigation. Furthermore, astronauts in space are not safe when there is radiation from solar storms.
Therefore, is there a way to get any potential space weather warnings?
Read: Can We Live on Mars?
Space Weather Forecasting
You might love checking the earth’s weather forecast daily so you can know what to expect and prepare for it. Similarly, you can prepare for space weather too. After all, it can be harmful. It is no wonder governments are developing strategies to prepare for any severe space weather.
When there is bad space weather, e.g. solar storms that are so sudden, and the effects can reach our earth, you can rely on the scientists’ predictions. They can foretell when the solar storms are likely to happen and how strong you can expect them to be. The satellites help the scientists with information that can forecast the space weather to send alerts to prevent any possible damages. Therefore, the message is conveyed to the public to know if the impacts will be minor, moderate, or extreme.
Unfortunately, as much as technology is continually advancing, much is left unknown. This makes space weather forecasting difficult. Furthermore, there is a limitation on methods of predicting solar activities, which makes space weather forecasting even harder.
Like the weather on earth, that on the space is also changing quite often and can cause damage. Nonetheless, the sun has a huge impact on space and earth weather. Several activities on the sun can affect the type of weather in space, ranging from solar flares, coronal mass ejections to solar energetic particles. Solar flares and solar energetic particles travel at different speeds towards the earth. However, the common thing between the three is that they can cause damages to the earth. Thankfully, scientists can perform space weather forecasts based on information from satellites. However, the lack of enough methods and knowledge on certain things makes space weather forecasting difficult.