A high-speed stream of solar winds — charged particles and magnetic fields coming from the sun — is likely to hit Earth later on Monday, July 12. This can cause interference with mobile, satellite television and GPS signals. Powerful solar winds can affect the functioning of satellites in orbit as well. According to Spaceweather.com, a website that makes space forecasts, the solar winds are approaching Earth with a speed of 1.8 million kilometres per hour. However, they are not powerful enough to cause a full-fledged geomagnetic storm, thanks to the Earth’s protective magnetic shield. When solar radiation hits our planet, Earth’s magnetic shield comes to the rescue. According to NASA, our magnetic field deflects the solar winds most of the time, but sometimes they can leak through near the poles causing auroras.
Auroras are colourful lights in the sky that can be seen in polar regions. The approaching stream of solar radiation was emitted from a hole in the sun’s atmosphere near the star’s equator. When solar winds hit our magnetic field, our outer atmosphere can heat up really fast, which can affect our satellites. As a result, GPS navigation, satellite televisions and mobile phone signals can face issues. Powerful solar winds can cause geomagnetic storms, a disturbance in the Earth’s magnetosphere.
Such a disturbance can cause electric power disruptions by pushing electric currents really high in power grids. Moreover, the heated atmosphere as a result of these solar winds can expand, which can increase atmospheric drag for satellites in orbit causing damage to their hardware.
The largest geomagnetic storm humans have recorded was the Carrington Event that was observed on September 1 - 2, 1855. The storm was caused as a result of a coronal mass ejection — plasma and magnetic field released by the sun — hit the Earth’s atmosphere. The natural event caused huge damage to telegraph systems. The storm also produced strong auroral displays in the sky. The speed of the solar stream was about 8.5 million kilometres per hour. If a solar storm as strong as that were to come today, it would cause massive blackouts, widespread electrical system disruptions and extended outages.