This steady stream of solar particles and coronal plasma is known as solar wind. It moves at about 1 million miles an hour. As solar wind reaches Earth, it encounters the planet’s magnetic field. Earth has such a field because of the swirling liquid iron and nickel in its outer core, which gives rise to electric currents. The magnetosphere protects the planet from deadly radiation from the sun but also retains a tiny layer of plasma from that solar wind. Typically, solar winds glance off this protective sheath. But sometimes the incoming charged particles and plasma interact with either the trapped plasma or the electrical currents generating the field. Such interactions create disturbances in the magnetosphere. The 2014 space hurricane was one such disturbance.
Usually, magnetic fields don’t mix. But if they do come close, portions of the fields can get realigned and even merge, forming a new pattern of magnetic energy. That’s what likely happened on the day of the space storm: An influx of solar wind energy formed a new pattern above Earth’s magnetic north pole. The storm acted as a channel from space into Earth’s atmosphere, funneling some electrons down past the planet’s armor. This particle rain could have wreaked havoc on our high-frequency radio communications, radar-detection systems, or satellite technology, the study’s authors said. That’s because charged solar particles that seep through Earth’s magnetic field can cause malfunctions in computers and circuitry on satellites and the International Space Station. Luckily, in this case, no issues were observed.
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