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Solar Storms - A Puzzling Threat

January 6, 2021

Enormous, unpredictable solar storms pose a serious threat to our power supplies and data networks. The US space agency NASA has launched a probe that's designed to study the cause of these mysterious space storms.

Planeten Sonnensystem Sonnenwind
Image: AP
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

The sun supplies us with light and energy. But it also generates huge streams of solar plasma that speed through space. These storms occur at irregular intervals, and can last for several years. Scientists have expressed serious concerns about this situation.  

Particle emissions from the last major solar storm in 2017 narrowly missed the earth. But in 2003, a stream of solar particles caused power surges in transformers and blackouts in Malmö, Sweden, and temporarily disabled two Japanese satellites. And in 1989, solar storms caused a six-hour power outage in Quebec, Canada. 

Illustration des Parker Solar Probe spacecraft
Artist’s concept of the Parker Solar Probe (NASA)Image: NASA

Scientists still can't predict when these storms will occur. So the US space agency NASA has launched a probe that's designed to fly closer to the sun than ever before. The probe will spend seven years gathering data on the ring of plasma that surrounds the sun. Experts from several different countries are taking part in the project, called the "Parker Solar Probe." They include German astrophysicist Volker Bothmer.

ESA - Sonde Solar Orbiter macht Sonnenbilder
Artist’s concept of the Solar Orbiter (ESA)Image: picture-alliance/dpa/ESA/ATG Medialab/NASA

The European Space Agency, ESA, has launched a similar spacecraft, dubbed the "Solar Orbiter." 
The fact that two space agencies have recently launched solar probes shows that scientists are seriously concerned about the problem of solar storms.

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