Impact of a solar flare on the Earth’s magnetosphere

(ORDO NEWS) — In a new study recently published in the journal Nature Physics, researchers at Shandong University in China and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the United States have taken a fresh look at the impact of solar flares on Earth’s magnetosphere. 

Scientists have demonstrated that the effects of solar flares spread throughout the geocosmic space due to electrodynamic coupling, and are not limited, as previously thought, to the atmospheric region where radiation energy is absorbed.

The magnetosphere is located in the region above the ionosphere. It is a fully ionized region of space at an altitude of more than 1,000 km from the earth. The region is surrounded by the solar wind and is influenced and controlled by the planet’s magnetic field, as well as the solar wind magnetic field.

The magnetosphere is usually called the Earth’s protective barrier against dangerous solar particles, since it prevents them from penetrating into other layers of the planet’s atmosphere.

Previous research has shown that when the direction of the solar wind is opposite to the magnetic field of the magnetosphere, magnetic lines from these two regions can connect, which means that some particles of the solar wind can penetrate directly into the space surrounding the Earth.

“We asked ourselves: could the flare process, which is characterized by enhanced radiation (for example, the solar wind), not only directly affect the Earth’s ionosphere, but also cause disturbances in the magnetosphere?” said Professor Jing Liu, one of the study’s authors.

“To answer this question, we looked at a series of observational datasets collected by global navigation satellite systems, the European incoherent scatter radar network, low-lunar ionospheric satellites and more,” she added.

The team examined data collected by various satellites during the September 6, 2017 solar flare. They adopted a numerical geocosmic model called the high space-time resolution (LTR) magnetosphere-ionosphere-thermosphere model, which reproduces the changes caused by solar flares between the magnetosphere and the ionosphere.

The results showed the influence of solar flares on the dynamics of the magnetosphere and the electrodynamic interaction of the magnetosphere and ionosphere. Researchers have observed a rapid and significant increase in flash-induced photoionization of the polar ionospheric E-region at altitudes ranging from 90 to 150 km.

This phenomenon appears to have had numerous consequences for the geocosmic region, including heating of the planet’s upper atmosphere at a lower level, reconfiguration of convection in air currents, and changes in auroral auroras.

“We have demonstrated that the effects of solar flares are propagated throughout geocosmic space due to electrodynamic coupling and are not limited, as previously thought, to the atmospheric region where radiation energy is absorbed,” explained Liu.

“Due to the similar interaction of the Sun, magnetosphere and ionosphere on other terrestrial planets, our research also provides new clues to the study and understanding of the impact of solar flares on other planets. In my future research, I plan to study the effects of the flare on planets with the same magnetosphere (such as Jupiter, Venus and Saturn).”

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