Mar 20, 2023

Solar storms have HEATED UP the thermosphere; satellites in danger now

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As the Earth still waits for the solar winds that are now expected to hit sometime later today, June 3, and spark a minor solar storm, a far more concerning development is worrying astronomers. As per studies, the thermosphere, which is part of the upper atmosphere, has been pushed higher and turned hotter as a result of multiple solar storms that struck the Earth in 2023. These solar storms have transferred a high amount of energy that has caused the thermosphere to shift upwards and heat up. Now, air is reaching the satellites in the lower orbits of the Earth and this can spell trouble for them.

Air reaching them essentially means that now air currents, also known as drag, will affect the movement of the satellites, especially the smaller ones like Starlink satellites. The heated-up air will be more prone to drag and can push around the satellites to move them 10s of kilometers away from their designated spots. This will also result in satellites crashing into each other and instruments getting damaged.

"Blame the Sun. Increasing solar activity is heating the top of the atmosphere. The extra heat has no effect on weather or climate at Earth's surface, but it's a big deal for satellites in low Earth orbit," said Martin Mlynczak of NASA Langley, as per a report.

Mlynczak is an expert in the SABER instrument on NASA's TIMED satellite, which he has been using for 20 years. This particular satellite is used to monitor infrared emissions from the thermosphere, which has been recorded to be at a 20-year high.

"There have been five significant geomagnetic storms in calendar year 2023 that resulted in marked increases in the amount of infrared radiation (heat) in Earth's thermosphere. They peaked on Jan. 15th, Feb. 16th, Feb. 27th, Mar. 24th, and April 24th".

With the peak of the Solar Cycle just around the corner, more such solar storms are expected that can make the condition for Earth's low-orbit satellites.

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