On July 3 around 8 pm IST, the sun emitted a large solar flare that was observed by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. Solar flares are magnetic storms launched from the sun, releasing energy equivalent to a few million hydrogen bombs exploding at the same time.
During a solar flare, the highly energetic charged particles are expelled from the sun at speeds close to that of the speed of light. These rays can disturb the ionosphere region of the Earth, which plays an important role in radio communications. The US NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center tweeted that a strong radio blackout occurred in certain regions around the Atlantic Ocean on July 3.
“When radiation, energetic particles and solar plasma material released during a solar flare interact with the Earth’s magnetosphere and ionosphere, it creates strong geomagnetic storms. This induces strong currents at ground levels which can trip electric power grids in countries situated at high latitudes, impacting air traffic on polar routes,” explained Prof Dibyendu Nandi from the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, Kolkata. He noted that sensitive satellite sensors can also be damaged. “Also, the radiation ionises the Earth’s upper atmosphere, changing conditions in the ionosphere, which is very important for high-frequency radio communications used by defense agencies, airline operators, and emergency services,” he added.
One of the biggest impacts of solar flares in history resulted in a large portion of the North American power grid failing. On March 13, 1989, Quebec, Canada, suffered a power blackout that lasted for over 12 hours, and radio signals were jammed due to the solar flare. NASA noted that some satellites tumbled out of control and the TDRS-1 communication satellite recorded over 250 anomalies as the high energy from the flare affected its sensitive electronics.