Danger danger Will Robinson

Previously I said that we could use our SuperSID monitor to detect changes in our sun by measuring the effects of intense X-ray bursts on the ionosphere. For millions of years, ever since the sun started its nuclear core, it has been emitting charged particles known as the solar wind.


Our sun has settled into an 11 year cycle during which time it alternates between solar maximum and solar minimum. During this cycle the suns polarity flips effecting the solar winds. At solar minimum the suns magnetic field lines up with its magnetic poles and are close to the suns axis of rotation. Mid way through the change of polarity, the magnetic field is at right angles to the polarity, and is known as solar maximum.

The sun does not have a solid surface, rather it is made up of gas. This has the effect of causing its poles and equator to rotate at different speeds, causing distortion in its magnetic fields. The intensity of this distortion eventually leads to the magnetic fields effectively snapping out of shape and causing energy burst leading to sun spots. It is a common feature for the sun spots to come in pairs, one having a northern polarity and the other a southern polarity.

The breaking of the magnetic field releases massive amounts of energy known as a coronal mass ejection or CME. Two forms of energy are released. High energy electromagnetic waves travel at the speed of light reaching the earth in about 8 minutes. Whilst high energy charged particles travel at several thousand miles per hour, reaching the earth in two to three days.

These charged solar winds present a particular danger to astronauts in space. Lethal doses of ultraviolet radiation and X-rays equivalent to thousands of medical X-rays reach the astronauts in a matter of minutes. A couple of days later they are bathed in high energy charged particles from the solar winds. It has not yet been confirmed if this will result in people turning invisible, becoming very stretchy, having an ability to start fires, or some other thing.

It is not practical to carry lead shielding due to its weight, so sitting out the solar storm in the centre of the space craft, behind a wall of water is currently as safe as can be accomplished. A three year mission to Mars increases these dangers several times over.

Our superSID monitor doesn’t just detect changes in the sun affecting our mobile phones and internet signals, but can quite literally save lives.



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