A solar storm can cause orbiting satellites to collide

And Digital look It has recently been revealed that the increased “drag effect” of solar storms may accelerate the fall of some satellites in the fall. However, this is not the only consequence that this phenomenon can bring to objects in orbit, experts are concerned about the high risk of satellites colliding with each other or even with debris.

The United States Space Surveillance Network (SSN) currently monitors about 20,000 objects in low Earth orbit (a region of space at an altitude of 1,000 km). Some of these items are operational satellites, but most are non-operational spacecraft, rocket parts, and debris generated during collisions.

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SSN experts use radar to monitor and track the position of these objects and project their trajectory into the future. When two objects, such as space debris and a satellite, come dangerously close to each other, a satellite operator receives an alert. In some cases, they perform maneuvers to avoid falls or collisions.

However, there are unpredictable situations, as it is not always possible to be sure of the position of these objects, and this unpredictability increases during solar storms.

Gases present in the Earth’s thermosphere (the upper layer of the atmosphere, located between 100 and 600 km) are evolved. At this height, they interact with particles emitted by the Sun, via coronal mass ejections (CMEs), i.e. large bursts of magnetized plasma from the solar atmosphere. These interactions drag the denser gases, which are at lower altitudes, to where the satellites are. This sudden change creates a strong drag, which changes the motion of these objects and pulls them towards Earth.

In a statement to Space.com, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) program coordinator Bill Murtaugh said that “when we get a very large event and we see a strong warming of the atmosphere [superior]The satellites will not be where they should be.”

Fortunately, however, these super-strong solar storms don’t happen very often.

One of the biggest concerns among experts is the increasing number of satellites and space junk orbiting the planet today. In fact, the next major solar storm could disrupt Earth’s atmosphere for weeks.

Photo: Buradaki-

Solar storms after space exploration began

In October 2003, hundreds of spacecraft were out of sight of satellite controllers. This situation lasted for several days and occurred after a massive solar storm hit Earth. Since this event was dubbed the “Halloween Storm”, the world has been experiencing a very quiet time.

In 2003, fortunately, there were no clashes. But since the year of the Halloween storm, the presence of objects in Earth’s orbit has quadrupled, so has the risk of collisions, even in the current solar cycle, which began in 2019 and was supposed to be much more intense. the previous one

According to Berger, “low-Earth-orbit satellite operators now receive about one warning per day. One warning per week is serious enough to warrant further consideration, and every few weeks they should manage the situation to reduce the chance of a collision. This was not the case in the past. »

For years, the space safety community has been warning about the growing amount of debris in low Earth orbit. This decline, along with the increase in the number of operational satellites over the past decade, threatens the sustainability of operations in space.

Experts are already taking steps to mitigate the early stages of what’s called Kessler syndrome, an unstoppable cascade of collisions that can make the orbital environment so dangerous as to render it unusable.

In February, SpaceX lost 40 Starlink satellites shortly after launch and the disaster was blamed on a rather mild geomagnetic storm. The European Space Agency (ESA) reported earlier this year that its swarm of satellites responsible for measuring the Earth’s field is decelerating ten times faster from December 2021 than the previous year since their launch in 2013.

Events between the 19th and 20th centuries

There have been two other extreme solar storms in known history. In 1859 the so-called Carrington Event brought down telegraph networks across Europe and America; The “New York Railroad Storm” of 1921 set fire to several telegraph centers around the world, including Grand Central Terminal in New York City.

Both storms were stronger than the 2003 storm.

Berger says that “if something like the storm of 1921 happened today, it could have a very serious impact on space operations for weeks, not just hours or days. And since we know we’re going to be hit by a major storm at some point, We need to study to improve the models [já existentes] And to make sure they can predict the changes in these geomagnetic storms better than they currently do.

Via: space.com

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