A method has been developed to study extreme space weather events



Scientists at Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech), together with colleagues from the Karl-Franzens University of Graz & the Kanzelhöhe Observatory (Austria), Jet Propulsion Laboratory of California Institute of Technology (USA), Helioresearch (USA) and Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Russia) developed a method to study fast Coronal Mass Ejections, powerful ejections of magnetized matter from the outer atmosphere of the Sun. The results can help to better understand and predict the most extreme space weather events and their potential to cause strong geomagnetic storms that directly affect the operation of engineering systems in space and on Earth. The results of the study are published in the Astrophysical Journal.

Coronal Mass Ejections are among the most energetic eruptive phenomena in our solar system and the main source of major space weather events. Huge clouds of plasma and magnetic flux are ejected from the atmosphere of the Sun into the surrounding space with speeds ranging from 100 to 3500 km/s. These gigantic solar plasma clouds and the accompanying powerful shock waves can reach our planet in less than a day, causing severe geomagnetic storms posing hazards to astronauts and technology in space and on Earth. One of the strongest Space Weather events occurred in 1859 when the induced geomagnetic storm collapsed the whole telegraph system in North America and Europe, the main means of communication for business and personal contacts in those days. If such an event occurs today, then modern devices are in no way protected. We may find ourselves without electricity, television, the Internet, radio communications which would lead to significant and cascading effects in many areas of our life. Only a few years ago, in July 2012, an outburst of energy comparable to the event in the 19th century occurred on the Sun, but we were lucky because these outbursts did not touch the Earth. According to some experts, the damage from such an extreme event could cost up to several trillion dollars and the restoration of infrastructure and the economy could take up to 10 years. Thus, understanding and forecasting of the most hazardous extreme events is of prime importance for the protection of the society and technology against the global hazards of Space Weather.

The current research resulted from an earlier work of Dr. Alexander Ruzmaikin, a former Ph.D. student of Academician Yakov Zeldovich and Dr. Joan Feynman, who has made important contributions to the study of Sun-Earth relations, the solar wind and its impact on the Earth magnetosphere, and who is the younger sister of Nobel Prize laureate Richard Feynman. In the current study, it was shown that the strongest and most intense geomagnetic storms are driven by fast Coronal Mass Ejections interacting in the interplanetary space with another Coronal Mass Ejection. Such interplanetary interactions among Coronal Mass Ejections occur in particular when they are launched in sequence one after another from the same active region. This type of ejection can be characterized using the concept of clusters that also generates an enhanced particle acceleration compared to the isolated plasma cloud. In general, the detection of clusters has important applications in many other extreme geophysical events such as floods and major earthquakes, as well as in interdisciplinary areas (hydrology, telecommunications, finance, and environmental studies).

“Understanding the characteristics of extreme solar eruptions and extreme space weather events can help us better understand the dynamics and variability of the Sun as well as the physical mechanisms behind these events,” says a research scientist of the Skoltech Space Center and the first author of the study, Dr. Jenny Marcela Rodríguez Gómez.

Now we are at the beginning of a new 11-year cycle of solar activity, which, according to the predictions, will not be very strong. “However, this does not mean that no extreme events can happen”, says professor Astrid Veronig, co-author of the study and director of Kanzelhöhe Observatory of the University of Graz. Historically, extreme space weather events occurred during not-so-strong cycles or during the descending phase of a cycle. At the peak of the solar cycle, vast amounts of energy are released in the form of numerous Solar Flares and Coronal Mass Ejections. whereas during the descending phase of a cycle the energy accumulates and may be released in single but very powerful events. “Therefore, our modern technological society needs to take this seriously, study extreme space weather events, and also understand all the subtleties of the interactions between the Sun and the Earth. And whatever storms may rage, we wish everyone good weather in space,” says Tatiana Podladchikova, assistant professor at the Skoltech Space Center, research co-author.


Skoltech is a private international university located in Russia. Established in 2011 in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Skoltech is cultivating a new generation of leaders in the fields of science, technology and business, is conducting research in breakthrough fields, and is promoting technological innovation with the goal of solving critical problems that face Russia and the world. Skoltech is focusing on six priority areas: data science and artificial intelligence, life sciences, advanced materials and modern design methods, energy efficiency, photonics and quantum technologies, and advanced research. Web: https://www.skoltech.ru/.

From EurekAlert!

29 thoughts on “A method has been developed to study extreme space weather events

  1. It would be good to have at least a handful of Transmission transformers on hand, since it takes some time to get those really big ones wound up. Probably good to all have a strategy in place to physically disconnect the grid(s) in the more northern parts of NA and Europe, as it is the high latitudes that will get the most induction inrush. I don’t know that it this will fry every iPhone and kitchen gadget, but the grid and probably hard wire telco’s will take some abuse, depending on the severity. The odds are low, but so is getting in a car accident, and sooner or later, many of us have a car accident. Which might cause more car accidents if the electronic circuitry all gets fried. It could be a big mess if we got a direct hit and weren’t prepared, or were ignorant to pre-plan for such an event. It only been about 150 years since the Carrington Event, so not unreasonable to think it won’t happen again.

    • There was a commission that studied the problems with an Electromagnetic pulse on the powergrid system, and recommended that about $4 billion be spent to build replacement transformers and other hardware to be used in the event an EMP took down the electrical grid, or parts of it.

      The last I heard about it, they were bickering over who was going to pay for this, the government, or the electricity generators.

      Somebody needs to make a leadership decision.

      • Compared to the Trillions for the GND, or the Trillions for China Virus expenditures on things like the PPP (Paycheque Protection Program) you would think a few Billion for things like a modest insurance policy on having some critical electrical gear ready for any kind of EMP that causes problems for the grid, that it would be a no brainer. And it isn’t like this gear would never get used, since it would be planned to be used at the end of the life cycle of existing hardware, and/or cycled into new construction and the inventory updated and replaced with new gear. We can debate when/what/how any solar CME might occur, but we also to have to consider an act of war such as a deliberate EMP set off at high altitude by a bad state actor like the NORKS or Iran. To not make these expenditures, that will have all this equipment utilized in due course in normal business, is folly at best and criminal negligence at worst.

  2. “Historically, extreme space weather events occurred during not-so-strong cycles or during the descending phase of a cycle. “

    Q: Why do intelligent scientists need to preface their work with that kind of hogwash statements?

    The September 1859 Carrington Event occurred 5 months before the SC 10 peak in February 1860.

    The July 2012, a full 18 months before SC24 began to peak in the solar NH, there was a CME that if it had hit Earth, it would have been another Carrington-level event for us.

    The largest Easrth-directed flaring event/CME and geomagnetic storm of SC24 occurred well after the February 2014 cycle24 peak and surprised everyone with its vigorous eruptions and generation of several very large, compact beta-gamma delta active regions they came from.

    Except for the absolute rock bottom cycle minimum periods, like we’ve just experienced, nothing is guaranteed.

    • This whole article is hogwash.

      Apart from all the general background waffle which we all know already, the only reference to anything new seems to one phrase:

      developed a method to study

      The title tells us just as much as rest of the article. Yet more garbage from the freshmen media studies students at Urea Alert , who probably did not even know what a CME was before reading WonkyPedia prior to writing this article.

      I got to the end and thought : huh, I must have missed the bit where they describe this super interesting new method to study extreme space weather. But there is NO NEWS here at all, it’s just like pop sci mag’s intro article to CMEs.

  3. “Historically, extreme space weather events occurred during not-so-strong cycles or during the descending phase of a cycle. “
    Q: Why do intelligent scientists need to preface their work with that kind of hogwash statements?

    I don’t think it is hogwash. In our prediction paper for SC24 https://leif.org/research/Cycle-24-Smallest-100-years.pdf we pointed out that:
    “Average space weather might be ‘‘milder’’ with decreased solar activity, but the extreme events that dominate technological effects are not expected to disappear. In fact, they may become more common. Two of the eight strongest storms in the last 150 years occurred during solar cycle 14 (Rmax = 64) [Cliver and Svalgaard, 2004], while three of the five largest 30 MeV solar energetic proton events since 1859 [McCracken et al., 2001] occurred during cycle 13 (Rmax = 88)”

    • Exactly my point. The extreme events can happen anytime during the active phase of the magnetic cycle, ascending, peak, descending.
      So historically speaking, that statement is wrong.
      The triggers for those are deep in the solar CZ, near or at the tachocline. The triggers occur stochastically. Whether they manifest as photosphere ARs 14-18 days later depends on the poloidal magnetic field strength, a function of the solar cycle.

    • Sunny,
      GW Bush may have made bad decisions about Afghanistan and Iraq, and on bank bailouts, but his policies were skeptical of global warming. He doesn’t deserve to be included in a list of hypocrites on sea level rise.

      Another thing to consider when evaluating W is that he had to provide leadership to deal with two major catastrophes that were essentially caused by Clinton mismanagement.

      Al Qaeda first attacked the World Trade Center on Clinton’s watch and nothing effective was done. Clinton had the opportunity to take bin Laden out and demurred.

      The subprime mortgage financial collapse in 2008 was caused by cockeyed policies to help economically disadvantaged (just coincidentally Democrat-voting?) people get home mortgage loans that they could never reasonably be expected to pay.

  4. The current research resulted from an earlier work of Dr. Alexander Ruzmaikin, a former Ph.D. student of Academician Yakov Zeldovich, and Dr. Joan Feynman, who has made important contributions to the study of Sun-Earth relations, the solar wind and its impact on the Earth magnetosphere, and who is the younger sister of Nobel Prize laureate Richard Feynman.

    Ruzmaikin and Feynman are also the foremost experts in the centennial solar cycle and its effect on climate:

    Ruzmaikin, A. and Feynman, J., 2015. The Earth’s climate at minima of centennial Gleissberg cycles. Advances in Space Research, 56(8), pp.1590-1599.
    “The recent extended, deep minimum of solar variability and the extended minima in the 19th and 20th centuries (1810–1830 and 1900– 1920) are consistent with minima of the Centennial Gleissberg Cycle (CGC), a 90–100 year variation of the amplitude of the 11-year sunspot cycle observed on the Sun and at the Earth. The Earth’s climate response to these prolonged low solar radiation inputs involves heat transfer to the deep ocean causing a time lag longer than a decade. The spatial pattern of the climate response, which allows dis- tinguishing the CGC forcing from other climate forcings, is dominated by the Pacific North American pattern (PNA). The CGC minima, sometimes coincidently in combination with volcanic forcing, are associated with severe weather extremes. Thus the 19th century CGC minimum, coexisted with volcanic eruptions, led to especially cold conditions in United States, Canada and Western Europe.”

    • From https://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/updates/feynman.cfm

      Joan Feynman, an astrophysicist known for her discovery of the origin of auroras, died on July 21. She was 93.

      Over the course of her career, Feynman made many breakthroughs in furthering the understanding of solar wind and its interaction with the Earth’s magnetosphere, a region in space where the planetary magnetic field deflects charged particles from the sun. As author or co-author of more than 185 papers, Feynman’s research accomplishments range from discovering the shape of the Earth’s magnetosphere and identifying the origin of auroras to creating statistical models to predict the number of high-energy particles that would collide with spacecraft over time. In 1974, she would become the first woman ever elected as an officer of the American Geophysical Union, and in 2000 she was awarded NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal.

  5. I see absolutely NOTHING new in this abstract. No new method to study extreme space weather events. From studying the Carrington Event, we figured out that two powerful CME’s launched in close together in the same direction will have an additive effect and will cause powerful geomagnetic storms that can/will damage our high tech electrical and electronic systems. No big news here. Looks like a paper intended to drum up more funding for their research

  6. The really big CME’s can wreak untold havoc on anything electrical here on Earth, but the smaller ones can as well (just not grid based). When a moderate CME’s energy hits the Earth’s magnetic field, it influences the Earth’s weather systems. All-in-all if it spawns or intensifies tropical lows the damage it causes may be way more than localized power surges.

    Someone needs to start looking seriously into the possible influences of CME’s no matter what size with our blue planet and it’s diminishing magnetic field.

  7. I was fortunate to have met Dr. Alexander Ruzmaikin and Dr. Joan Feynman twice at the last two Sun-Climate Symposiums where I also met Dr. Leif Svalgaard, all among the finest people I’ve ever met.

    Joan Feynman was funny and sharp. At breakfast one morning in Tucson this year she talked about her family and how happy they were and full of laughter. It’s hard to believe you can miss someone you barely knew.

    Inspired by such people’s research regarding space weather, I undertook a project over 5 years ago in addition to my regular sun-climate work, the regular production of this product image which updates every 5 minutes with the current solar-geomagnetic conditions, to serve as an early warning/ongoing information system for solar and geomagnetic events.

    • Hi Bob
      Nearly two decades ago I contacted Dr. Feynman while working on the Solar formula and we exchanged correspondence number of times since. Not only that she offered advice but encouraged me to publish early, then wait and see how it would do once the SC24 reached its peak. Publishing some 10 years before the event was a bit of ‘a stub in the dark’ but surprisingly it did far better than I ever expected.

  8. These heliocentric alignments on August 29th 1859 were less than 12 hours apart. Such multi-body alignments are fundamental to solar storm prediction. Two Carrington rotations plus 3 days later was the greatest European windstorm on record, the Royal Charter Storm.


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