How to be Prepared for a Solar Flare
Most people are not aware of when a Solar Flare occurs. The standard solar flare is not seen by the unaided eye of humans, nor is it smart to look at the sun anyways. Despite this, they do happen. Us being on earth and within our atmosphere are generally protected from any harm a Solar Flare can cause. However, other things like power and electronics, may not escape damage.
The number of solar flares grows approximately every eleven years. At the moment, the sun has been in a deep solar minimum, so it is predicted that in a few years, 2025, we will likely see the next solar maximum. So, more flares are coming, mostly small, but there might be some big enough to reach Earth and affect the UV index, magnetic field, and interfere with electronic frequencies.
The real question here is: what can you do to prepare yourself to deal with solar flares should they ever be big enough to cause humans damage?
What is a Solar Flare?
While a flare describes a sudden, intense, and rapid variation in brightness or light, a solar flare is essentially a giant explosion that occurs on the surface of the sun, which releases light, energy, and high-speed particles into space.
Solar flares can last for a few minutes to several hours and are typically seen with the aid of X-rays and optical light. Often enough, they are often accompanied by solar storms like coronal mass ejections (CME), solar particle events, or other solar phenomena.
~Classes of Solar Flares
~Generally, a solar flare can be A, B, C, M, or X-class. Each class is then divided into a logarithmic scale from 1-9. So, each class is divided into 9 subcategories like A1-A9; except for the X class. The X class does not end at X9 but can continue on. Generally, though, anything over an X10 is classified as a ‘Super X-Class Solar Flare’.
~Solar flares in the A & B classes are the lowest class. These flares happen the most and are rather harmless. C-class flares are considered minor, while M-class flares are considered medium to medium large. These ones can cause radio blackouts on the daylight side of Earth. Lastly, X-class solar flares are obviously the largest and most dangerous. During an average year about 10 of these will happen a year but can be more frequent during a solar maximum.
~The 3 Stages of a Solar Flare
~A solar flare generally occurs in three stages. The time it takes to run through each stage can range from only a few short seconds to as long as an hour.
~~This is the first stage. At this stage, the release of magnetic energy is triggered, and mild X-ray emissions can be detected.
~~During the second stage, electrons and protons are accelerated to energies that surpass a million electron volts (MeV). Hard X-rays, radio waves, and gamma rays are emitted at this stage.
~~This is the third and final stage. The step-by-step build-up and subsequent decay of soft X-rays are detected here.
What Causes Solar Flares
A solar flare happens when intense magnetic field lines near sunspots become too tangled: causing them to cross, reorganize, and consequently erupt. It is much like how a rubber band snaps when twisted too far past its breaking point. In the case of a solar flare, the magnetic fields release massive amounts of energy when it erupts.
~How often does a solar storm happen?
~A solar storm or geomagnetic storm tends to occur at different times depending on what stage of the eleven-year solar cycle the flaming ball of gas is currently at. At its peak, a solar maximum, several solar storms could occur each day. At its lowest, solar minimum, it could be as low as once a week.
What Could Happen if a Solar Storm hit Earth?
Mostly, solar flares occur without the disruption of life because they are often not large enough to reach Earth’s atmosphere. But if one that's big enough were to hit Earth, the impact could be catastrophic.
First, the amount of radiation released would be lethal to astronauts in space who are not protected by the Earth's atmosphere, especially ones who are not fully equipped with protective gear.
Then, a cloud of charged particles (coronal mass ejection) would collide with the magnetic field of Earth, causing geomagnetic storms and an intense aurora. The emitted X-rays and ultraviolet light would travel through the Earth's atmosphere and interfere with electronics, satellites, radio signals, and power grids; effectively triggering a large-scale power outage. This would lead to the decommissioning of everything from computers and cell phones to automobiles and airplanes.
As a society that relies heavily on technology, you can see how a solar flare hitting Earth could be disastrous.
~The Carrington Event
~The Carrington Event was the largest geomagnetic storm to have struck the earth in human history. The event occurred between September 1st & 2nd, 1859 just before the solar maximum of 1860. In August, a few weeks prior to the event several astronomers around the world, including Richard Carrington, watched as the number of sunspots on the sun grew exponentially. Two British astronomers Richard Carrington (the event’s namesake) and Richard Hodgson observed and recorded it independently, making it the first recorded solar flare in history.
~“The Carrington Event” solar flare generated an epic coronal mass ejection that took less than 24 hours to reach Earth, when most CME’s take a few days to reach us. The CME featured strong auroras from the polar regions all the way down to the tropics. The geomagnetic storm that followed cause telegraph communications to fail across the world. Thankfully most solar events do not pose harm to those of us on the ground.
~If an event like this happened during the present day, we would likely see the world’s first internet apocalypse. If the modern power-grid was knocked out people would lose their minds. The added modern benefit is most of the world has the means to quickly and efficiently repair any damages caused by a solar storm.
Weather emergencies such as solar storms will always come up. Your best tool? Knowledge and being prepared. No matter how outlandish a scenario may seem, taking the proper precautions is always better than not.
When a solar flare is tracked and the proper authorities warn of an impending CME be sure to protect your electronics, have plenty of food & water, stay off any vehicles that use electronic chips and navigation systems, have plenty of batteries and alternat light sources.