March solar storms heated Earth’s atmosphere


The recent solar activity did more than spark pretty auroras around the poles. Researchers say the solar storms of March 8th through 10th dumped enough energy in Earth’s upper atmosphere to power every residence in New York City for two years. Although the influx of solar energy puffed up the atmosphere, increasing drag on low-orbiting satellites, it caused fewer disruptions to electronic infrastructure such as electronic grids than some expected. It also offered plenty of eye candy, sparking dazzling auroras in many places.

“This was the biggest dose of heat we’ve received from a solar storm since 2005. It was a big event, and shows how solar activity can directly affect our planet.” Martin Mlynczak of NASA Langley Research Center

The solar eruptions began on March 6, and on March 8 a coronal mass ejection — a wave of charged particles — smashed into Earth’s magnetic field. For the next three days, the upper atmosphere, known as the thermosphere, absorbed 26 billion kilowatt-hours of energy. Infrared radiation from carbon dioxide and nitric oxide, the two most efficient coolants in the thermosphere, radiated 95 percent of that total back into space.

The SABER is an instrument aboard a  NASA’s TIMED satellite. SABER monitors infrared emissions from Earth’s upper atmosphere, in particular from carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitric oxide (NO), two substances that play a key role in the energy balance of air hundreds of km above our planet’s surface. Carbon dioxide and nitric oxide are natural thermostats. When the upper atmosphere (or ‘thermosphere’) heats up, these molecules try as hard as they can to shed that heat back into space.

That’s what happened on March 8th when a coronal mass ejection (CME) propelled in our direction by an X5-class solar flare hit Earth’s magnetic field. Energetic particles rained down on the upper atmosphere, depositing their energy where they hit. The action produced spectacular auroras around the poles and significant upper atmospheric heating all around the globe.

In human terms, this is a lot of energy.  According to the New York City mayor’s office, an average NY household consumes just under 4700 kWh annually. This means the geomagnetic storm dumped enough energy into the atmosphere to power every home in the Big Apple for two years. The storm is over now, but experts expect more to come cause we’re just emerging from a deep solar minimum. The solar cycle is gaining strength with a maximum expected in 2013.

More sunspots flinging more CMEs toward Earth adds up to more opportunities for SABER to study the heating effect of solar storms.

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    1. Sure Urtica, read the article. It heated the upper atmosphere. How? CO2 and NO absorbed the thermal energy and sent 95% of it back to space. It’s sort of a reverse greenhouse effect, at least in the case of CO2. The NO response is more akin to ozone and UV.

      The simple, and scientific, truth is that CO2 is the biggest control knob when it comes to climate change and we’re turning up the heat.

  1. The day will come soon enough when all on Earth will be down praying to our LORD GOD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST.

    This is sad that for many he will say i know you not. When that day comes many will be sorry.

    The Lord’s Little Helper
    Paul Felix Schott

    This still is the Nation that Stands United In GOD We Trust not the wicked.
    Blessed is all that do the work of our LORD GOD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST and Reading the words of JESUS from the Bible to all. Start by Reading Luke 21:11

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