A few weeks ago we saw a busy sun. There was much in the news about solar flares, magnetic storms and how it would affect the Earth, and in particular, communication systems. Recently, the sun has become quiet but there are signs that it is picking up yet again.
Luckily, the effects on Earth were minimal when we went through the busy stretch a couple of weeks ago. However, we may not always be so lucky.
Why, when the Sun is so active, are things still relatively unchanged here on Earth? One reason is the Earth's magnetic field.
Our own magnetic field normally looks and acts like a bar magnet's magnetic field. It usually deflects towards the magnetic poles the worst of the harmful cosmic radiation. However, as it interacts with this radiation and also the solar wind, the Earth's magnetic field is bent into a comet-like structure.
The cosmic radiation pushes the magnetic field on the side of the Earth facing the sun towards the side facing away from the sun. This thins the magnetic field out in front and creates the tail-like structure on the back side of the Earth. The magnetic field usually does its job and protects us from charged particles and the harmful radiation, but by changing its shape, affects may be felt here on Earth.
The Space Weather Prediction Center from NOAA is watching the sun 24 hours a day to provide very important forecasts and official watches, warnings and alerts to customers, because when a magnetic disturbance hits the Earth, outside currents are being forced into the power grid from our own magnetic field and this affects the electrical distribution here on Earth.
These electric systems, with as little as 15 minutes of warning, can take precautions to their systems by making sure they have the ability to handle the extra currents and to have people in place to turn off a transformer if there is all of a sudden "too much juice". This is why the watches, warnings and alerts are so important to these people.
Hopefully, it never gets to this. And hopefully our magnetic field protects us from damaging radiation like it is supposed to and has in the past. Let's just hope nothing changes with this very important part of our atmosphere. Because if it does, we may see tremendous changes and difficulties to our modern way of life. www.spaceweather.com