The Sun and its Humongous Habits – Coronal Mass Ejections

The Sun is the most majestic body in our solar system. It is violent and also a graceful celestial body. The Sun is considered to burn with the energy of a trillion nuclear bombs per second. It also releases huge flares of plasma that travel throughout the solar system at very high speeds. This article talks about Solar Winds and CME’s that are released by Sun.

In a nutshell, Solar Winds are charged particles released by the sun that permeate the solar system. These Winds are polarized and thus these winds are influenced by the magnetic fields of the planets and other celestial bodies. These winds travel at speeds of 250-750 km/s. The solar winds travel as far as the Kuiper Belt. The heliosphere is where the influence of these solar winds are felt. When surpassing the Heliosphere, the momentum of the wind reduces. The Heliosphere is formed because of what is considered as a termination shock. 

(Termination Shock: Don’t get overwhelmed by the word, ever went to the basin in your bathroom and opened the tap and watched how there was a shock created at the ends of the circle. Here is an image to help you understand)

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The above image is an example of a termination shock. The same phenomenon occurs in space forming the heliosphere.

Thankfully, due to the magnetic fields on earth, we don’t have to worry about extrasolar radiation. If there were no magnetic fields, we might not even have an atmosphere.

 

The Process of nuclear fusion, which fuses atoms in combination to create usable energy, occurs in the Sun to create heat. This phenomenon only occurs inside bodies that have exceptionally high pressures, which is present at the Sun’s core. Under such high pressures, matter ionizes to form plasma and creates magnetic fields. This process can sometimes create extremely large effects on our atmosphere through a Coronal Mass Ejection – where plasma waves generated can lead to high energy protons flood towards the direction of the waves. This is usually called a Solar Particle Event (SPE), or simply known as a ‘solar storm’. These waves are so strong that they usually compress other celestial bodies’ magnetic fields. It changes the shape of the field into somewhat a teardrop and forms a long tail at the end of the field. If the energy contained in the field is too large for the field to sustain, it breaks and the plasma particles head straight towards the body. If it happens on earth, it is known as a geomagnetic storm.

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This image shows how the magnetic field of the earth is compressed by the wind, and the formation of a tail behind it.

Nuclear fusion is currently being researched as a means of sustainable energy. The Sparc reactor, developed by MIT(w/mit.edu) and a Massachusetts tech company called Commonwealth Fusion Systems (w/cfs.energy) have researched the influence of nuclear fusion upon our atmosphere. 

These geomagnetic storms cause no harm to humans but cause a lot of harm to electronics. We all know that wherever there is electricity there is magnetism also. These CME’s can destroy the transformers we have that we depend on to generate current leading to a huge failure in power which might take years to set back up. Fortunately, engineers nowadays have already prepared for these kinds of events, and scientists watching the sun say that it takes a CME a few hours before it reaches the earth. Researchers say that a CME just went a very few kilometers away from the earth and we were fortunate to have missed the storm. Predictions say that it could lead to a loss of 2.6 trillion dollars worth of objects in America Only and an estimated time to set back all things is 4-10 years. 

We have already seen a few solar storms hittting earth. The most dangerous one is the 1989 Quebec Blackout. The geomagnetic storm was so strong that it caused a half day power failure in Quebec, some satellites were tumbling out of control in space, the US had over 200 power grid failures within minutes of the storm beginning. Quebec lost its entire power system in 92 seconds, USA had failed GSU’s and additional transformers failed due to load rejection. This was the strongest solar storm we have ever witnessed.

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The above is a small gif showing the entire solar storm, that occurred on March 13, 1989.

In Conclusion, the Sun releases huge solar flares every second and thus forms solar winds. When these flares get large they become CME’s. These winds travel at high speeds and push all protons in space with its momentum. These protons are what form the beautiful auroras. Luckily, CME’s occur only once in approx. 100 years. 

Currently, engineers are developing other methods of parting electric current flowing from transformers, to other sources and let the other sources hold the current. Once the solar winds have passed the planet, these sources will be allowed to release the electricity and getting everything back to normal.  Another method engineers have found out, is to just cut out the power supply, a few hours before the coronal mass ejection reaches the earth, and after it passes the earth, the power supply can be turned back on. Our engineers have constantly been helping humanity come up with effective and practical solutions to real-life problems using science. The only catch is, there is a very high chance of a Coronal Mass Ejection occurring between 2020 and 2050 and is going to be much more powerful than the previous ones. This time, there are much more satellites put up in orbit, and we have all our facilities only because of these satellites. If our engineers, don’t come up with a solution to save our satellites, we might incur much more losses just because of the sheer cost of those satellites, and also lose Internet, and Electric service for a long time. We to date trust our engineers, and now our lives are in their hands. All we can do is hope that engineers can save, billions of dollars of wreckage and losses, and come up with better solutions to escaping a Mass Ejection.

 

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