The last solar storm was so intense that it sank to the ocean floor

The beginning of May was a very stormy period for our sun.

A powerful solar storm lit up the skies worldwide with mesmerizing and intense aurora images. Surprisingly, its effects were felt far beyond our planet’s atmosphere, even at the bottom of the ocean.

Deep beneath the ocean’s surface, Ocean Networks Canada’s instruments detected major disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic field.

These instruments, which function as underwater observatories, are located as deep as 2.7 kilometers below the ocean’s surface. These serve mainly as magnetic compasses to monitor the ocean off the coast of Canada.

ONC’s undersea observatories were able to record the effects of the intense solar storm that affected Earth in May. The data indicated “transient distortions” in Earth’s magnetic field, showing how far-reaching these solar events can be.

“The reach of these data records is miles below the ocean surface[s] the magnitude of last weekend’s solar flare and suggest[s] that the data could be useful in better understanding the geographic extent and intensity of these storms,” said Kate Moran, president and CEO of ONC.

Data discrepancy

Solar storms or geomagnetic storms occur when our host star emits huge bursts of energy in the form of solar flares and coronal mass ejections. The rapid stream of particles interacts with Earth’s magnetosphere, resulting in auroras.

Apart from aurora, these storms can disrupt satellite communications and potentially impact power grids and navigation systems.

The underwater observatories are located on the west and east coasts of Canada. Compasses at a depth of 25 meters showed movements ranging from +30 to -30 degrees, confirming the enormous influence of the solar storm even at such remote depths.

Compass data captured by ONC’s main cabled submarine observatories VENUS and NEPTUNE off Vancouver Island, at Burrard Inlet on the Pacific coast, and at Conception Bay on the Atlantic coast, show the magnetic field distortion that occurs during a solar storm from May 10 to 12 (UTC). 2024. ONC

Solar storm detection

The ONC researchers noticed anomalies in the data during routine quality checks. They were initially believed to have been caused by an earthquake.

“I looked into whether it was possibly an earthquake, but it wasn’t true because the changes in the data lasted too long and happened at the same time in different locations,” said Alex Slonimer, a scientific data specialist at ONC.

“Then I checked to see if it was a solar flare, since the sun has been active recently,” Slonimer said.

The data variation was indeed related to magnetic disturbances caused by solar storms. The scientists found that the peak deviations in the compass needles coincided with the most active and colorful auroras.

“The next two years will be the peak of the eleven-year solar cycle. After a decade of relative inactivity, aurora events like this past weekend are likely to become more common in coming years, although the Sun’s variability makes accurate prediction of such events impossible,” said Justin Albert, professor of physics at the University of Victoria. , which leads the ONC initiative.

“ONC’s network could provide very useful additional insight into the effects of solar activity on Earth’s geomagnetism,” Albert concluded in the press release.

The data collected by these underwater observatories can provide crucial insights into the impact of intense solar atoms on the Earth’s surface. However, it is unclear whether these disturbances have affected marine life. Perhaps these revelations can open up a new research topic.

As the eleven-year solar cycle reaches its peak, even more breathtaking displays of the Northern Lights are expected.


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Mrigakshi Dixit Mrigakshi is a science journalist who enjoys writing about space exploration, biology and technological innovations. Her professional experience spans both television and digital media, allowing her to teach a variety of storytelling formats. Her work has been featured in well-known publications including Nature India, Supercluster and Astronomy magazine. If you have pitches in mind, don’t hesitate to send her an email.

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