We live on a rocky sphere (kinda) that orbits a big gaseous sphere that can fit 1.3 million of our rocky spheres inside it. But this big ball of gas is hotter than 5500 K on its surface, with the temperature exponentially increasing the deeper in you go, into the millions. This is because it produces a large amount of energy at its core as a product of a process called nuclear fusion, where (currently) Hydrogen atoms fuse to form helium, releasing a lot of energy in the process. The transportation of this energy to the surface, accumulation and distribution cause various interesting ‘weather’ phenomena on the Sun’s surface, such as solar flares and sunspots, regions on the surface that are slightly cooler than their surroundings, making them appear darker (as they emit less energy). One of these spots is AR2770, detected earlier this week, and might end up causing some major issues for us.
The sunspot has already emitted a few minor solar flares, causing nothing but the presence of minor waves of ionisation in our planet’s upper atmosphere. However, it is expected to keep increasing in size and might end up being the root of a phenomenon known as a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). A CME is basically a release of a massive amount of plasma and energy that is then further carried by solar winds, possibly reaching our planet. A few hundred years ago, our civilisation wouldn’t even have noticed any changes in our lives caused by such an event. However, now that we live in a world run using high-level technology, which in turn is powered by electricity, that our ancestors couldn’t even have dreamed about, a CME has the potential to turn our way of life on its head.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), CMEs can result in “fluctuations of electrical currents in space and energize electrons and protons trapped in Earth’s varying magnetic field”. Basically, they can cause major disruptions in radio communication, GPS and navigation, power generators and grids, as well as satellites in orbit. If one happens suddenly, the effects on our society could be catastrophic. All we can do now is hope.