Here's What Happens When a Solar Storm Slams Into the Earth

Pablo Tucker
November 21, 2019

If charged particles from solar winds hit Earth's magnectic field, this can cause problems for satellite and communication equipment.

Combing through years of data from the mission, the researchers discovered six times when the satellites recorded a solar storm impacting on the foreshock region - the part of Earth's magnetic field that faces towards the Sun and the first region affected by a solar storm. A study conducted by the ESA on the recording was published in the Geophysical Research Letters. When they reach the magnetic field, the waves transmit the magnetic disturbance to the surface of the planet.

The team used computer simulations to reveal the the intricate wave patterns that emerge during solar storms.

The discovery was made by a research team led by Lucile Turc, a research fellow at the University of Helsinki's particle physics & astrophysics space physics research group.

Converting the magnetic data from two of these solar storms to audio, the researchers are treating us to the "eerie sci-fi music" that Earth "sang" during these events.

When the frequencies of these magnetic waves are transformed into audible signals, they give rise to a psychedelic song more reminiscent of sound effects from a science fiction movie than from a natural phenomenon.


When a solar storm passes by Earth, however, the impact of it hitting the magnetic field's foreshock causes that "music" to rise in pitch and become far more complex.

Geomagnetic storms often result in displays of auroras - the northern and southern lights - as solar particles become trapped along the magnetic field lines, and stream down into the upper atmosphere near the poles.

Bright spots and illuminated arcs of solar material hovering in the sun's atmosphere highlight what's known as active regions on the sun, in this image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, captured on April 20, 2015.

Solar storms can result in some spectacular and weird effects here at Earth. As explained by the ESA, when Earth is not getting hit by a solar storm, the sound has a lower pitch and follows only one frequency. Although it is still an open question exactly how this process works, it is clear that the energy generated by waves in the foreshock can not escape back into space, as the waves are pushed towards Earth by the incoming solar storm.

It is a fast process, with the wave generated at the foreshock reaching the ground taking in around 10 minutes.

Data for the study was collected by the ESA's Cluster II mission, which placed four identical spacecraft, flying in formation, in the Earth's so-called magnetosphere.


Turc and her team are now working to try and understand how these complex wave superpositions are generated.

As part of their mission, the Cluster vessels go through the foreshocks generated by the solar winds.

The magnetic field is a result of Earth's molten iron core.

Recently, the ESA released the recording it was able to obtain through the Cluster mission.

For Philippe Escoubet, the project scientist for Cluster, the recording shows offers a glimpse of the wealth of information that the mission can provide.


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