As the Sun nears the peak of its solar cycle, which is expected to arrive in 2025, researchers continue to worry about the Earth getting hit by a severe solar storm that can damage satellites, disrupt wireless communications, and even damage sensitive electronics on the ground. But it will be surprising for you to know that we have already encountered a massive solar storm like this in 2021. While that particular solar event did not have as intense solar particles, it made up for it by having a ridiculously large size that encapsulated the Earth, the Moon, and Mars at the same time. The details of this solar storm have been revealed by the European Space Agency (ESA). Let us take a look.
ESA revealed the details of this solar storm event in its blog post, “A coronal mass ejection erupted from the Sun on 28 October 2021 and was spread over such a wide area that Mars and Earth, while on opposite sides of the Sun and around 250 million kilometers apart, received an influx of energetic particles. This marks the first time that a solar event was measured simultaneously on the surfaces of Earth, the Moon, and Mars”. The findings from the analysis of this solar storm event have been published in a paper in the Geographical Research Letters journal.
The biggest solar storm of modern history
The fact that ESA mentioned that such a solar storm has never been measured makes it a big deal and highlights the fact that major solar storm events such as the Carrington event also fail in comparison to the sheer magnitude of this solar storm.
Taking note of the event, ESA also highlighted that this “emphasises the need to prepare human exploration missions for the dangers of space radiation”.
This particular event also caused the rare ‘ground enhancement’ phenomenon. For the unaware, ground enhancement in this context refers to the accumulation of high electromagnetic charge near the surface level of the Earth that can impact ground-based electronics. Supercomputers, pacemakers, and large industrial equipment are particularly vulnerable to such incidents.
Despite the size and ground enhancement, surprisingly the solar storm did not prove to be fatal to the satellites in the lower orbit of the Earth or cause a major disruption in wireless communication. It is believed that the reason for this was that the overall intensity of the coronal mass ejection (CME) was dispersed as a result of its massive radius.
A thing to note here is if this CME cloud was smaller in size, its intensity would increase multifold and could perhaps even exceed the levels of the Carrington event. Can such a solar storm strike us in the near future? Nobody can tell.