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What is the solar wind and how does it affect the Earth

In 1989 there was a major power failure in Quebec that left 6 million people between Canada and the United States without power. That blackout lasted for 9 hours, but not only did it affect that area, but there were also failures in defense and communication satellites, modifying their orbits.

When it began to investigate what had caused this blackout, it was discovered that it was due to the solar wind and its effect on the Earth, which gave rise to a new science known as space meteorology, a discipline that ranges from science to technology. and with social implications.

In the following AgroCorrn article we will talk about what the solar wind is and how it affects the Earth , explaining everything about this not very well known phenomenon.

You may also be interested in: What is a solar storm and its effect on Earth

Solar wind and solar storm

From Earth, the Sun appears to us like a huge immovable ball whose brightness is constant. The reality is not like that, far from it, but on its surface explosions and other phenomena continually occur that cause prominences, flares and emissions of its mass.

In each of these explosions the Sun releases a large amount of energy, an energy equivalent to the launch of more than 35,000 atomic bombs like the one dropped in Hiroshima. With them, solar particles are launched into space, as well as magnetic fields that affect us when they go to Earth. These magnetic fields cause great changes in the Earth and its surroundings, that is to say: the atmosphere, the ionosphere or the magnetosphere, but the effects are also perceived on its own surface.

The behavior of the Sun changes every 11 years, in a system similar to that of the seasons on Earth. There are calmer times and busier times, in this sense we can distinguish between two “solar meteorologies” :

  • Solar storm : also known as geomagnetic storms, which could be compared to a terrestrial hurricane or tornado , the result of these large explosions on the Sun.
  • Solar wind : it is the continuous flow that the Sun emits when it is in a calm time.

Be that as it may, the Sun and its magnetism is related to that of the Earth, interacting and distorting it, in turn creating currents of electricity on the surface of the Earth’s atmosphere.

How the solar wind affects the Earth

As we explained at the beginning, the Quebec blackout in 1989 was the turning point in the study of the effects of the solar wind on Earth. However, there are innumerable records that we have on the effects produced by the emission of solar mass on our planet and, specifically, on technology systems.

Below we explain different technological systems that are affected by the solar wind :

  • Geological interpretation technology.
  • High voltage networks.
  • Oil and gas pipelines.
  • Telecommunication over long distances.
  • The signaling system of the trains.

Some of these systems are explained by the interferences it causes in the magnetic field , others by the alterations they produce in the conductive materials with which they are built. But, in addition to all those mentioned, there are also other technologies that are affected by the modification of the amplitude and phase of electromagnetic waves, for example, navigation and communication systems, which can cause errors in GPS.

But solar particles not only affect the surface, both the Earth’s atmosphere and the magnetosphere protect us from its radiation, however, astronauts, when they leave this protective layer, are exposed to its great energy, which can cause genetic mutations and DNA.

Magnetosphere and solar wind

The magnetosphere is one of the many layers that envelop the Earth . In this case we are talking about the outermost and largest of those that make up the Earth’s atmosphere, starting 500 km from the surface and extending through space to more than 60,000 km. In reality it is nothing more than a magnetic field produced in the terrestrial interior. Our planet has an iron core at very high temperatures that, with the Earth’s spin, as if it were a dynamo, turns the planet into a great magnet, with magnetic fields and poles.

This is not something specific to the Earth, in fact, other planets of our same system, such as Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune and Uranus also have it, however, the Earth is the most powerful of all, preventing much of the solar wind cannot pass through it.

Importance of the magnetosphere

As we have been saying, the magnetosphere is an essential element for life on our planet and its importance is due to its action as a shield against solar particles. Scientific research shows that without the magnetosphere life on our planet would have been impossible, since most of the water would have disappeared. In fact, something similar is believed to have happened with Mars.

Solar wind and polar auroras

The polar auroras are one of the most spectacular and wonderful spectacles that can be observed on Earth, a phenomenon that has fascinated humanity since ancient times. These are a few glows or luminescence that appear in the sky at night at the poles or in nearby areas. When they occur in the southern hemisphere they are known as the southern auroras , while in the north they are called the northern lights .

We will talk about polar auroras because they are intimately linked with terrestrial magnetism, the solar wind and all the concepts that we have talked about throughout the article, and that is that polar auroras are created when the particles emitted by the Sun – the wind solar – impact with the magnetosphere and move through it. These particles are stored in the magnetic field and, when this energy becomes impossible to store, it is when it is fired as electromagnetic radiation, which ends up causing these striking light effects.

Polar auroras are not always the same, but are very changeable and can have different colors, shapes and structures. Thus, many variations can be found, however, a typical aurora borealis is usually given in this way:

  • When night falls, an elongated arc appears that extends across the horizon, normally it grows from east to west.
  • Around midnight, this arc increases in brightness, in addition, waves form through the arc and elongated light rays.
  • The entire sky begins to be covered with these rays, spirals and bands of light, which move along the horizon.
  • It usually lasts between minutes and hours, there is no set time.
  • As dawn approaches, these lights disappear, leaving only some parts of the sky illuminated.

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