The danger of solar flares

The danger of solar flares

The danger of solar flares

The solar flares represent explosions at the surface of the sun. The solar flares are produced almost every day and they usually affect all layers of the sun’s atmosphere. The large ones release huge amounts of energy and could even eject coronal mass into the space. The solar flares also produce different types of radiation that also burst into the space.

The UV and X-ray radiation produced by large solar flares can reach the Earth affecting the upper layer of the atmosphere called ionosphere. These two types of radiation can disrupt long-range radio communications and radars that have the same wavelengths.

When the coronal mass ejected during the solar explosion reaches the Earth it creates a geomagnetic storm which represents a major disruption of the Earth’s magnetic field that can last up to few days. Usually the solar wind that brings the coronal mass towards Earth gets here in about 3 days from the moment of the solar explosion.

The largest electromagnetic storm ever recorded hit the Earth in March 1989 and disrupted power throughout Canada causing the collapse of Hydro-Québec’s electricity transmission system that was off for nine hours.

Besides the communications and power systems, solar flares also affect navigation systems and satellites that orbit the Earth.

For humans the radiations produced by solar flares are very dangerous having similar effect with the exposure to a nuclear blast. Large doses of radiation can kill immediately while smaller amounts of radiation can cause chromosome damage, cancer and other serious diseases.

Fortunately the Earth’s atmosphere acts as a strong shield, protecting us form solar radiations. The only humans put in danger by solar flares reaching the Earth are the astronauts which being outside the Earth protective atmosphere are more exposed to radiations.

During the 1989 electromagnetic storm the cosmonauts stationed on MIR absorbed a full-year radiation dose limit in just a few hours. These dose although is high is not life-threatening and the astronauts usually stay in space less than six months.

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