High-speed stream of solar wind is expected to hit Earth this week

Minor geomagnetic storms are expected.
Ameya Paleja
Sun with solar flares stock photo.
Sun with solar flares stock photo.

cokada/iStock 

A stream of high-speed solar winds is expected to hit Earth on December 1 or 2 this week, Spaceweather.com has reported.

With the Sun now in an active phase of its 11-year solar cycle, solar activity is expected to peak, and strong solar winds should not be surprising. A major coronal mass ejection (CME), much like the Carrington Event of 1859, would be very worrying today.

To know whether we are in the line of fire for such an event, scientists keep looking at the solar surface for signs of intense solar activity. Over the decades, there have been many documented events that have impacted the Earth. One such event is a coronal hole.

What is a coronal hole?

Highly intense magnetic fields on the solar surface can temporarily halt the convection process on the sun. This results in regions that are relatively cooler than the rest of the solar surface and hence appear darker. Scientists refer to them as sunspots. The magnetic field of a sunspot is close-ended as it reaches out to another spot on the solar surface.

In contrast, a coronal hole also has an intense magnetic field but is open-ended since it extends into interplanetary space. Last month, Interesting Engineering reported how coronal holes that formed a smile on the solar surface were likely to hurl solar flares at the speeds of two million miles an hour.

Scientists often refer to this as rough space weather since flares result in some intense solar winds.

What is solar wind, and how does it affect Earth?

The concept of solar wind was proposed in 1957 by Eugene Parker, who was then an assistant professor at the University of Chicago. Parker hypothesized that the solar corona, which is estimated to be at around two million degrees Fahrenheit, must send particles away from its surface, which would eventually travel at speeds faster than sound.

High-speed stream of solar wind is expected to hit Earth this week
Artist's impression of solar winds

Parker did the math and submitted a paper to the Astrophysical Journal, which was published but received scathing remarks from the scientific community. It was only three years later that NASA's Mariner II probe actually took readings of solar winds as it traveled toward Venus.

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The continuously flowing solar wind also protects us from high energy headed our way from other parts of the galaxy. However, when it comes to the Sun's turn of spilling out highly intense particles, it is the Earth's magnetic field that protects us.

The intense solar winds coming out of a coronal hole would only be able to create a G1-class or minor geomagnetic storm and keeps through on the ground safe from harm. The same cannot be said of spacecraft through.

Back in 1859, the Carrington event set telegraph offices on fire, but with thousands of satellites orbiting the planet today, these devices carry the major burden of communications and navigation around the world and could see major shutdowns in the event of a major geomagnetic storm.

In the U.S. alone, these damages are estimated to run into trillions, and scientists are working to give early warnings to prevent such a shutdown. The upcoming event is not that worrying and could result in some auroras for us to see.