March 5, 2017
Solar Storms Remove Electrons From Atmosphere, Create Northern Lights

Scientists have discovered some interesting new facts about solar storms, including the role they play in the emergence of Northern Lights in the Arctic. However, the research also suggests that these storms may disrupt communication and navigation systems, which underscores the importance of the study.

A report from detailed the findings of the new study from University of New Brunswick, DTU Space, NASA Jet Propulsion of Laboratory, and University of Illinois researchers, which details how large electron bursts are dispersed into the ionosphere, an extremely high-latitude part of the Earth's atmosphere that is located about 50 miles above our planet's surface. This takes place because the magnetic field created during solar storms doesn't mesh with the Earth's own magnetic field, which then allows electrons and other particles to enter the ionosphere, instead of being reflected.

According to DTU Space researcher Per Hoeg, this isn't a completely new discovery. But the simultaneous disappearance of electrons from wider areas is a phenomenon that scientists had yet to discover – UPI describes it as electrons simultaneously disappearing from large areas in Earth's atmosphere, yet intermingling with other particles in other areas.

"We made extensive measurements in connection with a specific solar storm over the Arctic in 2014, and here we found that electrons in large quantities are virtually vacuum-cleaned from areas extending over 500 to 1,000 kilometers," Hoeg commented. "It takes place just south of an area with heavy increases in electron density, known as patches."

Hoeg added that there is a lot of data to prove his team's rather unexpected discovery.

"It's a surprising discovery that we hadn't anticipated. We can see that it happens, but we don't know why. However, other datasets from Canada indirectly support our new observations."
Several tools were used to measure the solar storm that took place over the Arctic slightly more than three years ago, in February 2014. This allowed the researchers to gather large amounts of data from the storm, and discover many interesting new details about these storms. The mixing of force fields that takes place during these events results in the aforementioned "patches," which may extend more than 300 to 600 miles, with electrons darting around at speeds of greater than 2,200 miles per hour. This is what may be responsible for the Northern Lights over the Arctic, as well as navigation and communication interference. But there are greater reasons as to why Hoeg and other researchers want to study such phenomena more extensively. noted that scientists are very interested by solar storms because of the advanced communications technologies we have nowadays. These storms may throw off GPS satellite and radio communication via airborne signals, and sometimes also result in massive blackouts. This is one of the reasons why no one makes routine flights over the Arctic, even if traveling through this path would allow for shorter flight times between America and Europe and vice versa. As such, the researchers believe that it's important to learn how to predict solar storms and other similar events.

DTU Space PhD student and study lead author Tibor Durgonics was quoted as saying that there are multiple implications beyond the interestingly new interplay that takes place during solar storms.

"Our work can contribute to making navigation more reliable during ionospheric storms in the Arctic region. Our new research has enabled us to identify a number of critical factors that affect the quality of satellite-based navigation, and to assess the probability of when these factors may occur. At a more theoretical level, we have found out that during solar storms, electrons are removed in the ionosphere, which is the opposite of what you intuitively would expect."
[Featured Image by NASA]