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Geomagnetic Storms and how can it affect electronics.

Updated on March 20, 2013

Historical Occurences

Back in 1859, the world observed the most powerful solar flare known to man. The solar flare caused a great geomagnetic storm that was felt world-wide. The geomagnetic storm caused auroras to appear in many places around the world where auroras wouldn’t normally appear. They were so bright that people can read without any other source of light. It also induced electricity in the telegraph wires and was strong enough damage the telegraph systems and even shock some of the unfortunate operators.

In March 1989, the world experienced another powerful geomagnetic storm. There were intense aurora displays near the poles. And like the geomagnetic storm in 1859, this geomagnetic storm also caused some damage. The Hydro-electric power plant in Quebec was shut down because of the strong magnetic field associated with the geomagnetic storm.

Do you think there will be a Geomagnetic Storm in 2013 powerful enough to make significant damage?

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Prediction of NASA

NASA predicts the solar activity will peak during the first half of 2013. This peak in solar activity also means that there will be an increase of likelihood of geomagnetic storms.


Principles Behind a Geomagnetic Storm

Our magnetosphere is formed by the flow of charged particles like electrons and ions around the earth. A geomagnetic storm is a disturbance in this flow of charged particles in the Earth’s magnetosphere.

Our sun continuously shoots charged particles to earth. This stream of charged particles is called solar wind. During a solar cycle, this flow of charged particles fluctuates. This partly depends on the presence of sunspots. Other events that affect our solar wind include the coronal mass ejection and the solar flare. Once these charge particles reach the vicinity of the earth, our own magnetic field interacts with those particles and thus forming the magnetosphere.

We know that a stationary charge only has an electric field but when this charge moves, it will have a magnetic field. The flow of charges in the magnetosphere also has its own magnetic field. When the sun suddenly shoots massive amounts of charged particles to the earth, the flow of charges in the magnetosphere is disturbed, hence the magnetic field they have is also disturbed. In some cases, the change in the magnetic field in the magnetosphere is intense that its effect is experienced on the earth.


How does it affect electronics

From Faraday’s law of induction, potential (or voltage) can be induced in a loop of conductor if there is a change in the magnetic field. The change in the magnetic field can be made either by changing the magnitude of the magnetic field or by moving across the magnetic field perpendicular to the magnetic flux lines. A closed loop is also a closed circuit which is what is needed to make any electricity-reliant machine work.

When the change in magnetic field is intense, there will be disruptions in operation of all electronic devices because unwanted electrical energy will be induced in them. The effect is similar, though not as powerful, to an EMP or an electro-magnetic pulse which wipes out all electronic devices and systems within its radius by introducing a massive spike in magnetic field. This disruption can range from loss of signal to your cellular phone suddenly shorting out.

Electronic devices are made up of very small components and very many loops of conductor. The small components have limits to how much current can pass through them and it is often small. This makes these things susceptible to large changes in magnetic field which can be brought about by a very powerful geomagnetic storm.

For a broader discussion, read this article on how solar storms can affect us generally.


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    • sriparna profile image

      sriparna 4 years ago from New Delhi

      Very interesting read! I have learnt about the geomagnetic storms and I think it's worth discussing with my students how these solar disturbances in the magnetospheres can affect our electronic systems.

    • leakeem profile image

      leakeem 4 years ago from Earth

      Thank you! What is even more interesting about geomagnetic and solar storms is that there will be a peak in solar activity in 2013.

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