Increased solar activity is causing satellites to plummet from orbit.
Legal Insurrection readers may recall that I wrote about the sun experiencing an intense period of activity this February. In April, radio blackouts in Asia and Australia were recently triggered by a double solar eruption from one sunspot.
The sun certainly hasn’t slowed down. Scientists recently issued a dire warning after an enormous sunspot named AR3038 doubled in size and pointed at the earth, which could lead to a large solar flare potentially striking the planet.
Otherworldly footage released from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory revealed how the huge sunspot has been evolving at a rapid rate, according to Science Times.
“Yesterday, sunspot AR3038 was big,” scientists told SpaceWeather.com. “Today, it’s enormous. The fast-growing sunspot has doubled in size in only 24 hours.”
They added, “AR3038 has an unstable ‘beta-gamma’ magnetic field that harbors energy for M-class solar flares, and it is directly facing Earth.”
There is some good news. The earth will be in the flare zone for only a few days, and M-class solar flares tend not to be extremely disruptive.
When a solar flare hits Earth’s upper atmosphere, the flare’s X-rays and ultraviolet radiation ionize atoms, making it impossible to bounce high-frequency radio waves off them and creating a so-called radio blackout. Radio blackouts occur over the areas on Earth that are lit by the sun while a flare is underway; such blackouts are classified from R1 to R5 according to ascending severity.
…As solar flares travel at the speed of light, they take only 8 minutes to reach us, from an average distance of about 93 million miles (150 million kilometers).
If an Earth-facing sunspot forms near the sun’s equator (where AR3038 is located), it typically takes just under two weeks for it to travel across the sun so that it is no longer facing Earth, according to SpaceWeatherLive. Currently, AR3038 lies slightly to the north of the sun’s equator and is just over halfway across, so Earth will remain in its crosshairs for a few more days.
Despite its alarmingly speedy growth, the giant sunspot is less scary than it may seem. The flares it will most likely produce are M-class solar flares, which “generally cause brief radio blackouts that affect Earth’s polar regions,” alongside minor radiation storms, the European Space Agency wrote in a blog post. M-class flares are the most common type of solar flare.
There is also some bad news. The world has become very dependent on satellites for communications and internet access. The uptick in solar activity in this cycle phase could mean satellites plunging back to earth.
In late 2021, operators of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Swarm constellation noticed something worrying: The satellites, which measure the magnetic field around Earth, started sinking toward the atmosphere at an unusually fast rate — up to 10 times faster than before. The change coincided with the onset of the new solar cycle, and experts think it might be the beginning of some difficult years for spacecraft orbiting our planet.
“In the last five, six years, the satellites were sinking about two and a half kilometers [1.5 miles] a year,” Anja Stromme, ESA’s Swarm mission manager, told Space.com. “But since December last year, they have been virtually diving. The sink rate between December and April has been 20 kilometers [12 miles] per year.”
….”There is a lot of complex physics that we still don’t fully understand going on in the upper layers of the atmosphere where it interacts with the solar wind,” Stromme said. “We know that this interaction causes an upwelling of the atmosphere. That means that the denser air shifts upwards to higher altitudes.”
Denser air means higher drag for the satellites. Even though this density is still incredibly low 250 miles above Earth, the increase caused by the upwelling atmosphere is enough to virtually send some of the low-orbiting satellites plummeting.
“It’s almost like running with the wind against you,” Stromme said. “It’s harder, it’s drag — so it slows the satellites down, and when they slow down, they sink.”
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