Although the Earth’s magnetic field protects the Earth to some extent, solar activity still affects us. An example of this effect is the northern and southern lights or auroras. These lights appear when solar particles hit the Earth’s upper atmosphere, excite the atoms and thus transfer them to a high-energy state. After the atoms relax, they emit light in different colors such as red, green and blue. This dramatic display is most common near the Earth’s magnetic poles.
Solar activity can also cause surges in power grid transmission lines. An example of this was the Quebec power outage in Canada in 1989. Among other works, we can mention the changes in the density of particles in the upper atmosphere. This can lead to errors in GPS-equipped devices and heating of the Earth’s upper atmosphere. In this way, the thickness of the atmosphere increases for the satellites that are in the low earth orbit.
As a result, some satellites lose altitude and burn up in the atmosphere. Such was the case with a batch of new Starlink satellites in February 2022.
If the sun’s activity becomes more intense, the possibility of solar storms affecting humans and causing electrical problems in satellites will also increase. In such a situation, the spacecraft must be in safe mode. In this situation, many of their systems are disabled.
Human society is continuously progressing in the field of electrical infrastructure and the development of space technologies. Failure to monitor space weather and its origins can increase the vulnerability of such technologies, but if we know what to expect, we will be better prepared for it. Currently, power grids are being built to be less prone to power fluctuations and satellites are being designed to better deal with space weather.
Despite all the preparations, we still need a better understanding of our star. Experts currently have a detailed report of past observations and are continuously developing methods for observing the sun and space weather using satellites. Humanity is also improving scientific models that allow predicting solar activity. The current solar cycle can increase human ability to resist these events.