Technology Impact

    Magnetosphere is earth’s protective cocoon of magnetic field that protects it from the magnetic particles present in the solar wind. However, when this magnetosphere comes in contact with the coronal mass ejection (CME), which is sometimes able to penetrate through this protection layer, it will cause great disturbance and these disturbance will show in the form of auroras (aka Northern and Southern light). Also, a geomagnetic storm would be form because of this collide.

    These geomagnetic storms have brought about disturbances in radio signals, making telecommunication and broadcasting difficult. It has also indirectly caused the outrage of power grids and also damage to satellites. All of which will be explained in depth.


Radio Signals

    Mobiles, pagers and broadcasting etc all relies on radio signal to function properly, and in today’s world, many people’s life are dependant on them. However, during periods of geomagnetic storms, radio transmission would break down and hence these essentials would not be able to function properly. If the disturbance were strong enough, radio transmission would be drowned completely.

According to David Dearborn, who is a stellar physicist at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory:
    "The particles from the sun that get a little deeper into the earth's magnetic field can get trapped in the field and oscillate back and forth between the poles, which produces the aurora that we can see and enjoy. But at the same time, they produce a lot of radio interference, which at the lower radio frequencies can be so loud that you have difficulty broadcasting."


Power Grids

    The sunspots had indirectly affect power grids. Indirect in the sense that surges in power grids is not affected directly by the invading of plasma, but it has been overloaded because of the interference of the earth’s magnetic field. This interference originates again from the contact between the magnetosphere and the CME, which in turn is born from the sun. Maybe the following equation will make it easier for you to understand:

    One example of the failure in power grids would be in 1989, when sunspot is in its peak, the interference resulted in the power failure in Canadian province of Quebec, leaving 6 million people in the dark for a day. Also, in July 2000, power operators along the East Coast of North America has already been alerted beforehand to take precaution against a solar burp, but even after cutting off the generators to prevent overloading of the power grids, the circuit breakers still tripped and the power transformer were also overheated.

    The above examples illustrate the mightiness of the interference, so much so that even when precautions have been taken, damage is still done.

    Below is another newspaper article taken off the net, which shows example of a failure in the power grids:


Satellites

    Satellites falls outside the magnetosphere of the earth, in other words, it falls outside the protection of this magnetic field that the earth naturally has. They hence fall prey to the geomagnetic storm. According to David Dearborn, the storm’s interaction with the earth’s protective magnetic field would form current sheets, which the satellite has to deal with. In this case, the satellite will be moving across different electric fields, which is very bad for satellite as it would damaged the sensitive electronics in the satellite.

    In other words, the change from one electric field to the next will impose different frequencies which the satellite have to adapt to and this change is very damaging to the sensitive electrons in the satellite. Hence the geomagnetic storm would reduce the lifespan of the satellites.

    To illustrate further on how the damage to satellites would affect us, let us assume that the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites has been damage. GPS satellites allows users, often pilots, to know where they are so that they can get back to the control tower at various countries to estimate an approximate landing time. If assuming that they were affected by the storms, causing them to give out inaccurate data for a few hours, it will cause problem for airplane landing.

    Another example of how the damage to satellites have affected people’s life is shown when over 80% of pager users, which sum up to 45 million customers, lost their pager service on 19th May 1998. Research shows that this failure is related, if not caused by the failure of Galaxy 4 spacecraft. The damage of this satellite is believed to have been caused by a very intense flux of electrons, evident in the magnetosphere.

    After looking through the above, we hope that we have effectively shown you what kind of a impact sunspots will have on the technology on earth, whether is it direct or indirect.


Resources from: Laboratory for Astronomy and Solar Physics: Solar Flare Theory, Sun-Earth Connection   
The Exploratorium, Sunspots   
Sun-Earth Connectioon Education Forum   

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