Solar Flare - Hazards


Solar flares strongly influence the local space weather in the vicinity of the Earth. They can produce streams of highly energetic particles in the solar wind, known as a solar proton event, or "coronal mass ejection" (CME). These particles can impact the Earth's magnetosphere (see main article at geomagnetic storm), and present radiation hazards to spacecraft, astronauts, and cosmonauts.

Massive solar flares are sometimes associated with CMEs which can trigger geomagnetic storms that have been known to knock out electric power for extended periods of time.

The soft X-ray flux of X class flares increases the ionization of the upper atmosphere, which can interfere with short-wave radio communication and can heat the outer atmosphere and thus increase the drag on low orbiting satellites, leading to orbital decay. Energetic particles in the magnetosphere contribute to the aurora borealis and aurora australis. Energy in the form of hard x-rays can be damaging to spacecraft electronics and are generally the result of large plasma ejection in the upper chromosphere.

The radiation risks posed by coronal mass ejections are a major concern in discussions of a manned mission to Mars, the moon, or other planets. Energetic protons can pass through the human body, causing biochemical damage, presenting a hazard to astronauts during interplanetary travel. Some kind of physical or magnetic shielding would be required to protect the astronauts. Most proton storms take at least two hours from the time of visual detection to reach Earth's orbit. A solar flare on January 20, 2005 released the highest concentration of protons ever directly measured, taking only 15 minutes after observation to reach Earth, indicating a velocity of approximately one-third light speed, giving astronauts as little as 15 minutes to reach shelter.

Read more about this topic:  Solar Flare

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