Universe Guide

What are Solar Flare Electro-Magnetic Pulses (E.M.P.)?

Solar Flare Electro-Magnetic Pulse

Solar Flare Electro-Magnetic Pulses (S.E.M.P.) are one of two Electro-Magnetic Pulses, the other being Nuclear Electro-Magnetic Pulses. Unlike Nuclear, we have little control of if and when a S.E.M.P. occurs. They are the result of a Corona Mass Ejection or Solar Flares when the Sun errupts and fires out a stream of plasma. Depending on the direction of the plasma and the size, we aren't always hit.

When a solar flare occurs, satellite owners have to react to protect their assets. Satellites will be redirected or turned around so that the plasma doesn't hit the vital instruments for example. Power grid operators also need to be ready for an E.M.P. so to minimise disruption to their supply and customers.

We are constantly being hit by plasma, the Northern and Southern Lights (Aurora Borealis and Australis) are evidence to these. The large super eruptions are the ones that we need to be worried about.

Solar E.M.P. of Canada 1989

E.M.P.s can be cause disruption to power grids as has been witnessed in Quebec on Monday, 12th March 1989. A solar flare caused the entire province to loose power. As the cold war was still going on, the Russians were first suspected as a first strike but this was discounted.

Scientists had first noticed the eruption on the Friday beforehand. The solar flare that arrived first caused minimal damage compared to what the main bulk of the corona mass ejection would cause. Not everything that errupts or comes from the Sun is as fast as light.

Although the worst hit was Quebec, the United States east side was also affected. There were power outages all down the eastern sea-board. The Aurora Borealis was seen as far south as Florida and Cuba. It got people focused on space weather who had not already considered it before. When a solar flare is detected now, satellites are shut down to protect them or redirected so that their vital instruments are not in the firing line of the flare. N.A.S.A

Solar E.M.P. of 1859 (Carrington Event)

The Quebec E.M.P. was not the first and won't be the last. In 1859, the Earth was hit by the most powerful E.M.P. so far recorded. It is known as the Carrington Event after British astronomer Richard Carrington who witnessed it and who linked the activity on the Sun to geomagnetic disturbances on Earth.

Back in those days, there was no Internet, no satellites and no Facebook, life was simple back then. The effect on peoples lives were minimal compared to what if it had happened today. Today we are reliant on satellites, power grids and everything else electrical. National Geographic

Other Star E.M.P.

Our star, the Sun is no different to other stars. Other stars will have E.M.P. storms, we just won't be affected by them. There are a group of stars known as Flare Stars which are very violent stars that are always errupting with E.M.P.s and plasma storms.

Proxima Centauri

Proxima Centauri is the closest star to Earth other than the Sun at about 4.5 L.y. It is a small red dwarf star and is smaller and cooler than our Sun. Even though it is smaller and cooler, it is more energetic, it is a Flare Star. It lets off large, massive solar flares every so often.

These flares are so massive, it is believed that they would sanitise the planet, removing any atmosphere and life forms that may exist on the planet. The flares that the exoplanet in orbit receives would be more powerful than we have.

Could we receive a Solar E.M.P. that could strip away the atmosphere. Well, life has been on this planet for billions of years, we are still here aren't we. It could happen but the odds are very high of it happening, its not something to keep you awake at night. We're probably more likely to be wiped out an asteroid. Although with an asteroid, we could defend against it given the right amount of time but couldn't from a E.M.P.

People could take to underground shelters but we'd probably have to be there for quite a long time. We don't receive the E.M.P. from Proxima as we are too far away for them to do any damage. The most likely star in the night sky to go supernova is likely to be Betelgeuse in the constellation of Orion.

Supernova E.M.P.

When a star reaches the end of its life, it will explode in a supernova and become either a neutron star or a black hole. When it explodes, they'll be a rush of plasma and energy radiating out from the core. We'd be safe if we were more than 25 - 50 light years away from the exploding star. The good news is that there are no local stars that are planning on going supernova in the near future, you still have to do the homework...

Any further than 25 - 50, the energy will have dissipated to nothing.

Studying the Sun

If anyone ever tells you that building satellites and sending probes to other planets is a waste of time and money. Tell them that if we don't then we won't be prepared if a solar flare comes out way. As we have seen in 1989, the first E.M.P. was instantaneous but the main bulk was slow. Slow thereby giving us time to react and prepare.

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