NASA scientists have successfully tested a tool to predict solar geomagnetic storms which often disrupt our own including one of Indian-origin have developed a new tool that can predict solar geomagnetic storms at least 24 hours in advance, forewarning telecom disruptions, if any.
Neel Savani, an Indian-origin space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland has come out with a new model to predict solar storms 24 hours before they hit Earth’s magnetosphere as against the current model that tracks them just an hour before.
Heat from nuclear fusion in the sun’s core erupts like a pot of boiling water from the sun’s gas (plasma). Like a rubber band that has been twisted too far, solar magnetic fields can suddenly snap to a new shape, releasing tremendous energy as a solar flare or a coronal mass ejection (CME).
These solar explosions, equivalent to billions of one-megaton nuclear bombs, can blast billions of tons of plasma into space at millions of miles (kilometers) per hour as a CME and they occur near sunspots, dark regions on the sun due to heavily concentrated magnetic fields. However, sunspots and stormy solar weather follow a cycle that repeats every 11 years.
Key to predicting solar storms and the solar activity cycle is an understanding of the flows of plasma inside the sun. “Disruption from large space weather events affects our daily lives more and more. Breaking through that 24-hour barrier to prediction is crucial for dealing efficiently with any potential problems before they arise,” says Neel Savani, explaining that the new model is still under trials and once it is found perfect, the scientists will soon predict them with accuracy a day before giving enought time to work on satellite communications channels.
Solar storms have been a constant phenomenon on the sun, captured by Hubble telescope over a decade ago and caused by giant solar explosions called coronal mass ejection (CME). Since they are aligned in the opposite direction of the Earth’s magnetic field, disruptions in satellite communication waves was often experienced. Other applications such GPS, air navigation and C-band communication channels see interruptions and blackouts due to solar storms.
The violent solar eruptions running into deep inner space at speeds of 3,000-km per second (6.7 million miles an hour) turn into solar storms affecting not only Earth but other planets in our solar family and outside. Some of the early beneficiaries would be the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Met Office in the UK.