Solar activities and eruptions affecting Earth technology


THE SUN may not seem like an obvious threat to us, but explosions on its surface can trigger the natural phenomenon of space weather – and the impacts here on Earth are being taken seriously by governments.

“Our sun is not the placid yellow disc we see from Earth but a variable and dynamic star. It is reaching its 11-year height of activity in the next couple of years,” said Dr Lucie Green, a Leverhulme fellow at Mullard space science laboratory at University College London.

Space weather events arise when the sun’s eruptions are carried by solar wind towards the Earth. While these events can produce stunning aurora, they can also lead to geomagnetic storms, radiation storms and solar radio noise affecting communications satellites.

“The solar sunspot activity cycle poses a threat to technologies that we rely on, including electricity infrastructure, satellites and communications,” said Dr Alan Thompson, head of the geomagnetism team at the British Geological Survey. “We need to be aware of the risks and prepare for potential disruption.”

Dr Jim Wild, reader in space plasma physics at the University of Lancaster, said that as our reliance on technology increased, communications had become embedded in our culture. Consequently, our exposure to the hazards of space weather events was increasing with time.

“The worry is a very large event; we don’t know what it will do to the space-age civilisation we live in,” says Dr Wild.

BECCA WILSONis a British Science Association media fellow at The Irish Times