Strong Solar Storms Remove Electrons From Earth's Atmosphere: Research

Solar storms destroy electrons from Earth’s atmosphere

Various studies have suggested that Sun’s eruptions fire electrically charged particles in the direction of Earth, which creates solar storms that may hurt communication and navigation systems. Now, a team of researchers from NASA, University of Illinois, DTU Space, university of Brunswick have found that heavy clouds of charged particles are sent to our planet’s atmosphere, nearly 80 kilometers above the planet. This event occurs because of magnetic fields that occur because of eruptions on the surface of the Sun.

Electrons disappear from large parts of the atmosphere after a major solar storm and it seems as if they congregate in other regions. At the moment, the research team hasn’t been able to explain a reason behind this strange phenomenon.

The phenomenon of solar storms isn’t new, but the discovery that it destroys electrons is new. New study has suggested that solar storms removed electrons from more than 500 to 1000 kilometers in Earth’s atmosphere.

Prof. PerHøeg of DTU Space said, “Our research has enabled us to identify a number of critical factors that affect the quality of satellite-based navigation … At a more theoretical level, we have found out that during solar storms, electrons are removed in the ionosphere, which is the opposite of what you intuitively would expect.”

DTU Space researchers are also involved in a number of other researches under ESA as well as the European Union’s Horizon 2020 program.

NASA is also planning to send a space mission to check solar storms and other solar activity at a distance of four million miles from the solar surface. The mission could be launched by July 2018.

Understanding solar storms is very crucial they can hinder satellite signals and damage radio communications, which are becoming increasingly essential for the world as a whole.

While solar storms are associated with an extra number of electrons, the new research suggests otherwise for some regions of Earth’s atmosphere. The research team working at Technical University of Denmark (DTU) aimed to find the impact of solar storms on communication and navigation systems on Earth. The research team analyzed the data collected during a major solar storm in 2014.

In the research paper, Professor Per Høeg from DTU Space, informed, “With the help of the measurements from solar storms over the Arctic recorded in 2014, it was analyzed that the electrons got removed from the atmosphere from areas that extended over 310 miles to 612 miles. It takes place just south of an area with heavy increases in electron density, known as patches.”

"There are two aspects of this research. It can both be used for a number of practical purposes, and then there is a theoretical part which is about achieving a better basic understanding of these phenomena," said Tibor Durgonics, a doctoral student at DTU Space.

The research paper further informed...

This phenomenon occurs especially at high latitudes. It happens because the magnetic field created by the eruption on the Sun interferes with the Earth's magnetic field. It opens, so to speak, up to allow particles and electrons—that would otherwise be reflected—to penetrate the ionosphere. It is a known phenomenon. But it turns out that electrons at the same time disappear from large areas, which has not been demonstrated earlier.

The explanation of the phenomenon should probably be found in the geomagnetic processes in the Earth's magnetic field in a direction away from the Sun. The composition of the magnetic field undergoes dramatic changes in the area between the solar wind and the Earth's magnetic field, triggering powerful burst of energy.

As the geomagnetic solar storm took place in the ionosphere over the Arctic in February 2014, it was measured via satellites and land-based measuring stations. Among other things, via the GPS network GNET in Greenland—which DTU helps run—via DTU's geomagnetic measuring stations, the global navigation system GPS, and various American and Canadian satellites. Thus, large data volumes from the solar storm were recorded.