On Sunday, November 29, 2020, scientists detected a class M4.4 solar flare*. While class X solar flares can potentially lead to global blackouts and power disruptions, lower-energy class M flares usually confine damages to the local level. As the electromagnetic eruption will reach Earth by this coming weekend, perhaps now is a good time to examine what exactly is a solar flare, how it can impact us and what precautionary steps can we take to protect ourselves.
A solar flare is a burst of electromagnetic energy emanating on the surface of the Sun, usually near sunspot groups or magnetic storms. The Sun only recently entered Solar Cycle 25 last December 2019, which means that normally the number of sunspots is at a minimum. By year 5 or 6, half-way point, of a solar cycle, magnetic storms are raging across the surface of the Sun and class M and X flares abound. Lower flux class A, B and C flares tend to be the norm during the early cycle phase. Thus, in this regard, a class M flare today is a surprise.
So, what can we expect? Radio waves, the lowest energy waves in the electromagnetic wave spectrum, tend to dominate solar flare radiation. Because of the long and high amplitude shape of their waves, radio waves can easily reach our atmosphere, potentially disrupting GPS and communication signals.
Class M and X flares, however, arrive with a strong dose of high energy ultraviolet and x-ray waves that carry the force to strip electrons from atoms; hence, such waves are classified as ionizing. Fortunately, these short-length waves are blocked by Earth’s magnetosphere, Van Allen radiation belt, ionosphere and atmosphere.
Nevertheless, ionizing waves interact with the magnetosphere that can lead to geomagnetic storms around Earth depicted through brilliant auroras at higher-latitude regions. And, geomagnetic storms interact with Earth’s magnetic field which runs through the poles and core of the Earth. Thereby, a massive energy surge in space can impact terrestrial power lines, leading to blown transformers or power outages. A geomagnetic storm caused by solar activity in 1989 caused a blackout in Quebec, Canada that lasted nine hours.
Avoiding air travel over the poles during the next week or so might not be a bad idea. Some relatively recent studies, however, indicate that there could be more direct health problems.
Research indicates a link between solar and geomagnetic activity and the likelihood of strokes. Neurologists investigating strokes in Slovakia in 2006 discovered that the risk of a stroke “rose significantly every 10.5 years and 7.04 years – time periods that correspond to solar-flare cycles that impact on Earth”.
In a 2014 paper Geomagnetic Storms Can Trigger Stroke, Dr. Valery Feigin, a leading expert on strokes, and others found in a study of 11,000 stroke victims that an event was 20% more likely to occur on days with geomagnetic storms. Interestingly, although victims of strokes tend to be around 70 years in age, the link to geomagnetic storms was greatest under age 65.
Another analysis by Russian scientists from the Institute of Space Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), Institute of Physics of the Earth (RAS), and the Sechenov Moscow Medical Academy showed that micro variations of the geomagnetic field coincided with the heartbeat. The effect was greatest in the prelude to a geomagnetic storm and in the recovery phase. Moreover, in 70% of geomagnetic storms the incidence of heart attacks rose 13% and blood-strokes 7.5%. Thus, physicians caring for patients with a high-risk of heart attack or stroke should consider monitoring information on solar and geomagnetic storm activity, such as SpaceWeatherLive.
Here at Medica Health International, we constantly monitor solar flare activity and our therapeutic tools are designed to minimise the impact that this activity has on health and well-being. Get in touch with us if you want to learn more about how you can protect yourselves and your clients in these extraordinary times.
* Solar flares are classified from weakest to strongest as class A, B, C, M and X with a 0.0 to 9.9 subclass. The classification is based on the energy level of x-ray waves contained therein.