Giant solar storms do not only have power to wreak havoc on Earth, they can also target the satellites in its orbit as well.
The Sun’s active status is worrying astronomers especially about them sparing strong geomagnetic storms on earth. The Sun is in its active phase and scientists are worried that the solar flares heading towards earth may knock out the power grid, internet, mobile phones and more on earth. However, the effect of Solar storms could be much more than one can imagine. They can even affect satellites in Earth’s orbit as well. In October 2003, a major storm hit Earth and, much to the shock of made controllers, they lost track of hundreds of satellites for days. And now space researchers are worried that the next big solar storm that could wreak havoc in near-Earth space for weeks.
According to a report by Space.com, the U.S Space Surveillance Network (SSN) has tracked nearly 20,000 objects larger than 4 inches (10 centimeters) in low Earth orbit, the region of space at altitudes below 620 miles (1,000 kilometers). While some of these objects are operational satellites, others are defunct spacecraft, spent rocket stages and debris fragments created due to collisions.
SSN experts are keeping a track of location of these objects by using radar measurements. It will also help them to project their trajectories into the future. The report explained, “When two objects, for example a piece of space debris and a satellite, look set to get dangerously close to each other, the satellite operator receives a warning. In some cases, they conduct avoidance maneuvers to prevent a crash. ”
However, if the positions of these space objects are not accurate tracked, as happens during these storms, it becomes difficult to know if collisions will happen or not. “In the largest storms, the errors in the orbital trajectories become so large that, essentially, the catalog of orbital objects is invalidated,” Tom Berger, a solar physicist and director of the Space Weather Technology Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, is quoted by the portal. He said that the objects can be tens of kilometers away from the positions last located by radar and that makes the job of controllers impossible and this in turn can threaten satellites. In effect, it is a double whammy- one is lost control of satellites and non-accurate tracking of objects in space.