Geomagnetic Storm Effects

However, sometimes the Sun generates solar superstorms. A superstorm is a CME and can contain billions of tons of magnetic plasma that travels the 150 million kilometre distance between the Sun and Earth in a day or more. Once it arrives, it causes a blast shock that violently contracts the Earth’s magnetic field and transfers energy into the magnetosphere. During the event, the magnetic field of the CME aligns to the Earth’s magnetic field, the two magnetic fields become one moving cloud of charged particles. When this cloud passes over Earth, it stretches the Earth’s magnetic field into a long tail. Ultimately, when the stored energy in the tail reaches a critical level, it breaks and explosively releases some of its energy towards Earth. This is when a geomagnetic storm begins.

One of the biggest geomagnetic storms ever recorded was the Carrington event that took place in September 1859. It is believed that this storm was a result of a CME that travelled 18 hours from the Sun to the Earth. During the Carrington Event, auroras were observed all over the world, instead of just high latitudes. It also caused disruption to the majority of pagers in the USA. Telegraph lines were electrified, people were being zapped by operators.

Despite that, even smaller storms can damage satellites, affect radio communications or be dangerous to astronauts.