Solar flares represent one of the most controversial and confusing space phenomena. The goal of this paper is to explain the essence of solar flares, their impacts on the Earth, its potential ramifications and possible ways to mitigate its risks. The paper includes a brief discussion of solar flares. A case study of the solar storm on March 13, 1989 is included. The impacts of solar flares on Florida are discussed. Recommendations to mitigate the material and health risks of solar flares are provided.
Keywords: solar flares, Florida, solar storm, impacts.
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September, 1859 became a turning point in the evolution of global astronomy and meteorology: on September 1, 1859, R. Hodgson and R.C. Carrington, two independent observers, saw a solar flare for the first time in human history (Tandberg-Hanssen & Emslie, 1988). “While engaged in the routine survey of sunspots on the solar disk, they witnessed an intense brightening of regions in a complex sunspot group; the event lasted only a few minutes” (Tandberg-Hanssen & Emslie, 1988, p.1). However, even today, with the rapid advancement of space technologies, not all solar flares are visible to the human eye. Nonetheless, solar flares represent one of the most interesting and controversial space phenomena, which greatly impact all natural and human-induced processes on the planet. Given the real and potential damage caused by solar flares to humans, their risks and negative consequences have to be successfully mitigated. This paper includes a brief description of solar flares, their nature and potential impacts on the Earth, the way solar flares can impact the state of Florida, a case study of one of the most devastating solar storms in the history of humanity that took place on March 13, 1989, as well as the analysis of the most relevant strategies and recommendations to deal with the negative consequences of solar flares.
From the planet Earth, the Sun does not look too challenging or complex, but at a closer look, the Sun appears to be in constant turmoil. The planet is quivering, churning, exploding, and producing the shakes and strikes of varying magnitude. The source of the Sun’s heat and power lies deep within its body where the nucleus releases radiation that makes it way out to the star’s surface and sends a powerful signal to all other bodies in the Solar System. These radioactive reactions turn the Sun into a constantly moving, shaking, vibrating, and energy-generating star, greatly impacting all natural and human-related processes on the Earth. Solar flares disrupt the unity of the Sun and the rest of the Solar System, tearing the solar atmosphere and releasing enormous energy (Lang, 2008). The X-rays accompanying all solar flares eventually meet the Earth’s atmosphere and modify it (Lang, 2008). Solar flares result in the massive explosive outbursts of physical matter, energy and radiation, which travel across the interplanetary space (Lang, 2008). Today, solar flares represent one of the most interesting and yet underexplored mechanisms of the Sun’s activity, which has profound implications for everything that is happening on the planet Earth.
It should be noted, that no state or nation is completely secured from the negative consequences of solar flares. Regarding their magnitude and force, no human on the planet Earth can feel 100% protected from the negative effects of solar radiation. The way solar flares affect the Earth and its people can vary, depending on their scope and severity. Solar flares hit the Earth with their magnetic power, mass magnetic ejections and storms. Solar flares create peculiar magnetic auroras which, in turn, disrupt communications, satellites, and the existing power systems (Lang, 2008). The state of Florida is in no better position, although the impacts of the most recent solar flares on it have been rather mild. More often than not, Florida residents face major disruptions in GPS systems and communications (Kamm, 2012). In March, 2012, Florida faced the coronal mass ejection categorized as G3 (Kamm, 2012). The severity of solar flares can range from G1 to G5, with the latter being the strongest (Kamm, 2012). As a result, some residents of Florida could experience problems using their cell phones and other technical equipment (Kamm, 2012). Because solar flares intervene the Earth’s magnetic field and mess with satellites and other space systems, they make it difficult to manage communications and related processes. In addition, Florida could experience problems managing its high-frequency radio waves that are used by aircrafts (Sandell, 2012). Power grids could also fall victim to the powerful solar flares (Sandell, 2012). However, the negative impacts of solar flares on Florida are quite rare, mostly due to its geographic location. For instance, while residents along the U.S.-Canadian border enjoy the northern lights caused by the major solar flares, Florida residents have no such pleasure (Sandell, 2012). Nonetheless, with each new solar flare or storm, Florida residents should be prepared to face disruptions in communications and other technical systems and try to mitigate/eliminate those risks.
One of the recent reports, published by the Department of Homeland Security, claims that the electric grids in the U.S. are not very susceptible to the negative consequences of solar flares (Parsons, 2012). Coronal mass ejections can potentially harm transmission lines, but they can hardly bring the entire electric grid down (Parsons, 2012). This year has been marked with an unprecedented increase in solar activity. The Sun has achieved its 11-year maximum, and solar-generated magnetic pulses will remain a matter of concern for meteorologists and technologists until May, 2013 (Parsons, 2012). Simultaneously, professional meteorologists and national security professionals feel concerned that they do not know everything about solar flares and their impacts on power transmission equipment (Parsons, 2012). Even though the space science has passed a long way towards a better understanding of solar flares, nobody and nothing can be completely secured from its negative influences.
On March 13, 1989 one of the greatest solar storms destroyed a huge generator transformer in New Jersey. Several days earlier, on March 9, 1989, astronomers working at the Kitt Peak Solar Observatory had noticed a solar flare in progress (Solar Storms, 1989). The next day witnessed a much more powerful eruption (Solar Storms, 1989). The solar storm that broke out on March 13, 1989, “had impacted the magnetic field of the Earth and caused a powerful jet stream of current to flow 1000 miles above the ground” (Solar Storms, 1989). The currents eventually targeted and settled down in more than a dozen of power systems all over North America, as well as in Canada and the United States. Apart from New Jersey, the Hydro-Quebec Power Authority experienced one of the largest technical losses, when a 100-ton static capacitor went down as a result of the currents induced by the solar storm (Solar Storms, 1989). That was the moment when half of Quebec was left without any electricity and power resources. By morning, most people living in Quebec woke up in cold homes, due to the absence of electricity. The Montreal Metro was shut down and children had to stay at home: schools were also closed. Businesses lost millions of dollars, simply because their dark offices could not operate. Similar electric disturbances were also felt in the United States and Great Britain: in California, dozens of garage doors started to open and close without any clear reason (Solar Storms, 1989). Excessive magnetic activity caused severe disturbances in microchip production in the U.S. (Solar Storms, 1989). Even though the media seemed to have ignored the incident, it remains one of the most notable attacks of the Sun on the Earth in the history of humanity.
Apparently, solar flares, as well as solar storms, present a serious danger to all natural and human processes on the Earth. Certainly, most solar flares cause only minor disturbances on the Earth’s surface, but they do have the potential to result in a major disaster. One of the biggest fears is that a powerful solar storm can bring the U.S. electric power system down to the point of collapse (Parsons, 2012). Consequently, taking into account that everything in the developed world depends on electricity, the population will experience considerable material, financial, and public health losses. Just imagine that millions of refrigerators with food go down in the middle of the summer, and the solar flare turns into a weapon of mass destruction. Hospitals and schools without electricity will also do not good to people. Solar flares can readily damage satellites, and more than 40 satellites have already suffered the devastating effects of solar storms (Colliott, 2012). Here, one of the basic question is how to mitigate the risks and consequences of solar flares and whether anything at all can stop their development and movement closer to the Earth.
Definitely, the current technologies do not allow managing solar storm processes on the Sun. Therefore, the risks of solar flares cannot be eliminated. However, the humanity can minimize the negative consequences following solar flares and storms. Today’s risk management professionals suggest that the best way to deal with solar flares is to stay informed (Page, 2011). Others claim that, very soon, the Sun may plunge into a long period of inactivity, which may last many decades (Page, 2011). Still, the best the society can do is to invest additional resources in the research and analysis of solar flares, solar storms, and other space phenomena. Better knowledge of the space processes and patterns will help to predict and prevent their negative influence on the Earth.
Solar flares were first discovered by two independent scientists in 1859, during a huge solar storm. Since then, solar flares have become one of the most interesting but controversial objects of professional research. As of today, the body of knowledge about solar flares rapidly increases, but it is still too early to say that the humanity knows everything about the Sun and the way it impacts the Earth’s living beings. One of the biggest solar storms took place on March 13, 1989, causing devastating impacts on the energy power system in North America. Canada, the United States, and even Great Britain experienced major difficulties due to the massive disruptions in electricity and communications. Today, no state or human can be totally secured from the negative effects of solar flares. In the state of Florida, residents may experience difficulties using cell phones and electric devices during solar flares. Unfortunately, scientists remain increasingly concerned that they do not know everything about solar flares and cannot always predict them. Contemporary technologies do not allow regulating and eliminating the risks of storms on the Sun’s surface. Therefore, the best way to mitigate such risks is to be informed. Meanwhile, the developed world must invest considerable resources in the research and analysis of solar flares. Better knowledge of the space processes will help to prevent the major disruptions and considerable losses due to solar flares.