UPSC Exam   »   Solar Flare

Solar Flare

”G.S. Paper 3: Awareness In The Fields Of It, Space, Computers, Robotics, Nano-Technology, Bio-Technology, Pharma Sector & Health Science”

Why in News?

  • Recently a solar flare/solar storm that occurred on the Sun triggered a magnetic storm that scientists from the Center of Excellence in Space Sciences India (CESSI), in Indian Institutes for Science Education and Research, Kolkata, had perfectly predicted.
  • Judging by data from the NASA DSCOVR satellite, the scientists observed a steep jump in transverse magnetic fields, density and speeds of the plasma wind that are tell-tale signatures of the arrival of a coronal mass ejection (CME) shock front.
  • The storm arrived within one hour of our forecast time with similar speeds to what we had estimated.

What is Solar Flare?

  • The solar magnetic cycle that works in the deep interior of the Sun creates regions that rise to the surface and appear like dark spots. These are the sunspots.
  • Solar flares are highly energetic phenomena that happen inside the sunspots.
  • In a solar flare, the energy stored in the Sun’s magnetic structures is converted into light and heat energy.
  • This causes the emission of high energy x-ray radiation and highly accelerated charged particles to leave the Sun’s surface.

What is Coronal Mass Ejection(CME)?

  • Sometimes solar flares also cause hot plasma to be ejected from the Sun, causing a solar storm, and this is called Coronal Mass Ejection (CME).
  • Coronal Mass Ejections can harbour energies exceeding that of a billion atomic bombs.
    The energy, radiation and high-energy particles emitted by the flares can affect Earth-bound objects and life on Earth – it can affect the electronics within satellites and affect astronauts.
  • Very powerful Earth-directed coronal mass ejections can cause the failure of power grids and affect oil pipelines and deep-sea cables.
  • They can also cause spectacular aurorae in the high-latitude and polar countries.
  • The last time a major blackout due to a coronal mass ejection was recorded was in 1989 – a powerful geomagnetic storm that took down the North American power grid, plunging large parts of Canada into darkness and triggering spectacular aurorae beyond the polar regions.
  • During a CME, enormous bubbles of superheated gas – called plasma – are ejected from the sun.
  • Over the course of several hours, a billion tons of material are lifted off the sun’s surface and accelerated to speeds of a million miles per hour (1.6 million kilometres per hour).
  • This can happen several times a day when the sun is most active.
  • During its quieter periods, CMEs occur only about once every five days.

What is DSCOVR?

  • DSCOVR (Deep Space Climate Observatory) is an American space weather station that monitors changes in the solar wind, providing space weather alerts and forecasts for geomagnetic storms that could disrupt power grids, satellites, telecommunications, aviation and GPS.
  • DSCOVR orbits about a million miles from Earth in a unique location called Lagrange point 1, which basically allows it to hover between the Sun and our planet.
  • The spacecraft’s EPIC camera takes a new picture of Earth every two hours.
  • The EPIC camera also captures images of solar eclipses and images of the Moon as it passes between DSCOVR and Earth.

The Center of Excellence in Space Sciences, India (CESSI) is a multi-institutional Center of Excellence hosted by the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Kolkata and has been established through funding from the Ministry of Human Resource Development. CESSI aims to explore the Sun’s activity, generate the understanding necessary for space weather forecasting, hunt for gravitational waves, support national space science initiatives, participate in international capacity building activities and pursue public-private partnerships in space science research.

CESSI’s Process of Predicting solar storms

Solar Flare_40.1

  • The process of prediction takes place in two steps: First, the researchers analyse the possibility of a strong solar flare from an active region – that is, clusters of sunspots – using a machine learning algorithm.
  • This algorithm needs observations of the sunspot magnetic fields, from which Scientists extract various parameters to train the algorithm. Scientists use data from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, specifically, the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager instrument, for this purpose.
  • The second step is estimating the time of arrival on Earth of coronal mass ejections and forecasting the geomagnetic storm. The group uses the near-Sun evolution of the coronal mass ejections through European Space Agency’s SOHO satellite and NASA’s STEREO satellite to extract their speed. There is an associated flare, and its position on the Sun is used to extract the location of origin of the CME. The location of the source of the CME and the velocity are used as inputs by the group in a publicly available model widely called the Drag Based Ensemble Model to calculate the CME arrival times and speed.

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