Solar storms can cause a number of negative consequences for Earth. For example, they can cause extensive power outages or satellite blackouts that affect the Internet or air travel. In fact, we are becoming increasingly reliant on space-based systems for everyday life, meaning that our everyday technology is highly sensitive to solar flares and storms.
Previous Solar Storm Prediction Method
Scientists believe that solar storms are created by the release of stored magnetic energy due to changes in the sun’s magnetic field. Unfortunately, scientists have been eluded as to how to measure or predict solar storms and other space weather forecasts. We know that a leading cause for space storms are solar flares. In short, solar flares are bursts of radiation and charged particles. Currently, scientists look at the sun’s sunspots to predict possible eruptions. However, this prediction strategy is not as reliable as monitoring the changes in the magnetic field of the outer solar atmosphere, called the Corona, which is a more direct indication of solar activities.
According to Professor Tomas Brage and Professor Roger Hutton, researchers from Lund University in Sweden and Fudan University in Shanghai, monitoring the magnetic fields of the Corona will allow us to develop a method for predicting solar flares. In fact, this method would work much like how the field of meteorology predicts weather on Earth. This method will then allow us to better use our high-tech systems that are highly sensitive to space weather. Direct measurement of the magnetic fields of the Corona has been historically impossible. Brage and Hutton, however, believe that they have discovered a breakthrough system for better predicting solar storms.
The method that the researchers have developed includes a method called quantum-mechanical interference. Nearly all information about the sun reaches Earth through light, which is sent out by ions in the atmosphere. This allows us to detect the magnetic fields by measuring their influence on these ions. The internal magnet fields of these ions are enormous, making them hundreds or thousands of times stronger than any human-generated fields. As a result, the weak coronal fields leave no trace unless we observe the interference between two “constellations” of electrons in the ion that are very close in energy.
What makes the research different in this case is that it predicts and analyzes the nearly untraceable interference in an ion that is common in the Corona fields. The researchers based this breakthrough on state-of-the-art calculations performed in the Mathematical Physics division of Lund University. Brage’s team at Lund University then combined their calculations with experiments conducted by Hutton’s team at Fudan University. The team at Fudan University tested the calculations by using an Electron Beam Ion Trap, or EBIT, which is able to produce and capture small parts of the solar Corona.
The researchers’ ability to measure the relatively weak magnetic fields around the outer layer of the sun has been a fantastic breakthrough. It will help predict solar flares that will provide vital information for our high-tech devices.