- Elon Musk’s Starlink has lost dozens of satellites that were caught in a geomagnetic storm a day after they were launched on February 3.
- Up to 40 of the 49 satellites were impacted, Starlink said, causing them to fall from orbit before they could be commissioned.
- Solar storms are magnetic plasma ejected at great speed from the solar surface. They occur during the release of magnetic energy associated with sunspots (‘dark’ regions on the Sun that are cooler than the surrounding photosphere), and can last for a few minutes or hours.
Effect on Earth
- Not all solar flares reach Earth, but solar flares/storms, solar energetic particles (SEPs), high-speed solar winds, and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that come close can impact space weather in near-Earth space and the upper atmosphere.
- Solar storms can hit operations of space-dependent services like global positioning systems (GPS), radio, and satellite communications. Geomagnetic storms interfere with high-frequency radio communications and GPS navigation systems. Aircraft flights, power grids, and space exploration programmes are vulnerable.
- CMEs, with ejectiles loaded with matter travelling at millions of miles an hour, can potentially create disturbances in the magnetosphere, the protective shield surrounding the Earth. Astronauts on spacewalks face health risks from possible exposure to solar radiation outside the Earth’s protective atmosphere.
Predicting solar storms
- Solar physicists and other scientists use computer models to predict solar storms and solar activities in general. The February 1-2 phenomenon that knocked out Starlink’s satellites was predicted on January 29.
- Current models are capable of predicting a storm’s time of arrival and its speed.
- Certain orientations of the magnetic field can produce a more intense response from the magnetosphere, and trigger more intense magnetic storms.
- With the increasing global dependence on satellites for almost every activity, there is a need for better space weather forecasts and more effective ways to protect satellites.
Source: THE HINDU.