Soft X-rays are created when charged particles in a solar wind collide with the magnetic field that protects and surrounds the Earth. To many scientists, they are a mere annoyance because they interfere with space discoveries. But Space.com reports on new evidence that soft X-rays, once deemed cosmic noise, can help scientists monitor and report on space storms that threaten the Earth.
Cosmic storms can cause serious damage, from messing with power supplies, hospital equipment, banking systems, air traffic control, and even your iPod. Electronic devices are sensitive to magnetic inference, and a particularly bad cosmic storm could cause massive devastation for governments, businesses and more. Dr. Richard Fisher is director of NASA’s Heliophysics division. As he told The Telegraph, “[Solar flares] will disrupt communication devices such as satellites and car navigations, air travel, the banking system, our computers, everything that is electronic. It will cause major problems for the world.”
But monitoring soft X-rays may give scientists a better picture of how cosmic storms affect the Earth. Looking at soft X-rays will allow scientists to see how the magnetosphere is moving around the Earth as a whole. Michael Collier is a NASA astrophysicist. As he told Space.com, "It's not a question of advanced warning in this case, but rather getting the global view — that is knowing what is happening everywhere at once.” Experts feel that an X-ray imager could detail how these changes will influence our planet.
This new imager may be just in time, as a powerful solar storm has been predicted for sometime in 2013. The sun is on an 11-year cycle of high and low periods of action, and it is about to enter a period of high activity. With a potential outcome that could cause 20 times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina, experts are working on preparing for the potential magnetic — and economic — fallout.
For further reading:
- Cosmic noise could improve space weather forecasts
- NASA warns “huge solar flare” from space storm could cause massive devastation