Increasing solar activity: things to be aware of


Experts predict higher solar activity in 2024. Let’s investigate the possibility that space weather could impact earthly life, and if so, should we be concerned about it?


Technology and the Sun
The sun and human health
Solar activity and crime rates
Space weather and climate on earth
From scientific research to government action

The term “solar activity” refers to a broad range of events and activities taking place in the sun’s atmosphere. Strong disruptions in the Earth’s magnetic field, known as magnetic storms, can result from “bad weather” on the sun and last anywhere from a few hours to many days.

“When we discuss solar activity, we normally refer to flares, which are extremely strong solar explosions that can impact Earth from as far away as 150 million kilometers. However, we also understand that each outbreak is unique. Some are incredibly strong and some who are feeble. Furthermore, they alter their speed. Studies of the sun reveal that there are times when flare frequency and severity both noticeably rise over several years.

Technology and the Sun

There is a consensus that solar activity affects the operation of technical devices; the influence is visible, the only question is how strong it can be in 2024 and how it will affect the devices.

This influence can have quite serious consequences. One can recall what is considered to be the strongest geomagnetic storm in the entire history of observations in 1859, which was nicknamed the “Solar Superstorm.”.

It caused a malfunction in the telegraph systems of Europe and North America, and northern lights were observed in exotic latitudes—in Cuba, the Bahamas, Hawaii, and Central America. The cause of these effects was a strong coronal mass ejection that took 18 hours to reach the planet and was noticed by British astronomer Richard Carrington on September 1.

Closer to our time, in 1989, another geomagnetic storm caused by phenomena on the Sun led to the breakdown of a transformer at a nuclear power plant in Salem (New Jersey, USA). In the Canadian province of Quebec, space weather also knocked out a high-voltage transmission line, leaving about 6 million people without power for nine hours.

It may seem that over the past decades, humanity has achieved significant technological progress, so technology is much better protected from all types of threats, but experts are in no hurry to draw conclusions.

In 2022, an article was published in which representatives of the European Space Agency drew attention to the fact that during periods of high solar activity, it becomes more difficult to control satellites. Solar storms can increase radiation levels in near-Earth space, which can damage satellite electronics.

In addition, due to the increase in the density of the upper atmosphere, satellites are at increased risk of losing altitude, and as a result, they may burn up in the atmosphere. This directly affects life on Earth since GPS, GLONASS, television, weather forecasts, and much more depend on the functioning of satellites.

Elon Musk’s Starlink project is one such instance; it aims to make high-speed wireless Internet accessible to everyone on the planet. According to the company’s plans, this will require positioning 42,000 satellites in close proximity to Earth.

However, space weather is unpredictable, so while 49 space satellites were launched in February 2022 as part of the project, 40 of them had to be taken out of service when a geomagnetic storm broke out.

The loss of 40 satellites may not seem like a big deal considering the tens of thousands of planned launches, but the projected cost of these lost items is $100 million.

It is unlikely that solar flares at the current intensity will bring about the demise of technology. Whether the sun can produce substantially stronger flares is the main topic of discussion. As an illustration, meteorites fall on Earth continuously and don’t appear to kill anyone, yet once in a million years, a meteorite of a size that wipes out half of life on Earth falls. Generally speaking, such powerful explosions have not yet occurred in our time spent studying the Sun. But once more, our knowledge of this is still quite limited.

However, given how commonplace the Sun appears, it is quite difficult to believe that it is capable of a gigantic explosion. Consequently, even while the overall burden on the biosphere and technosphere is undoubtedly growing and will continue to do so this year, we still do not anticipate such catastrophes, says Bogachev.

The sun and human health

In discussions about the influence of solar activity on various spheres of life, most copies are broken when discussing the relationship between the Sun and human health. In many ways, this question is also occupied by doctors from all over the world who are trying to find cause-and-effect relationships between increased solar activity and certain diseases.

Scientific circles have long held the view that greater solar activity does not affect human well-being in any way. However, several health specialists, both domestically and internationally, disagree, particularly about the cardiovascular system.

So, in 2018, a team of scientists from the USA, Saudi Arabia and Lithuania published a study in which they tried to trace how solar activity and geomagnetic storms affect heart rate variability.

Based on the results of observations, experts came to the conclusion that the increase in solar wind correlated with an increase in heart rate, which scientists explain as a natural reaction of the body.

Increases in the intensity of cosmic rays, solar radiation, and Schumann resonance (the formation of standing electromagnetic waves at very low frequencies between the Earth’s surface and the ionosphere) have been associated with increases in heart rate and parasympathetic activity.

A more recent review study from 2023 found evidence of a strong relationship between geomagnetic disturbances and blood pressure, with systolic and diastolic blood pressure often elevated during a severe geomagnetic storm (3 to 8 mmHg).

Some scientists, however, contend that elevated blood pressure and heart rate are not the worst outcomes that can occur in the human body. For instance, during large geomagnetic storms, which are accompanied by an increased cosmic ray background, the frequency of heart attacks increases by 12% and the number of strokes increases by 7%, as noted by researcher Tamara Breus of the Space Research Institute of the US Academy of Sciences.

“People learn from the news that when there is a storm, they become worried, and both their heart rate and the risk of a heart attack (if their heart is already sick) increases,” Panchin notes.

Solar activity and crime rates

There is an assumption that phenomena and processes occurring 150 million km from the Earth’s surface directly affect the social “organism”—social p processes such as revolutions, riots and murders.

In particular, in 2023, an international team of authors published an article devoted to the influence of solar activity on the murder rate. Comparing peaks in geomagnetic activity and annual homicide rates in the US, UK, and Germany from 1987 to 2018, scientists concluded that cosmic influence is responsible for more than half of the changes in murder rates in all three countries.

If such a pattern works, then, according to researchers, in 2025 in the United States and in 2026 in Germany, there will be an increase in the number of murders.

The editors of Revolution Notes asked Dmitry Skugarevsky, the associate professor of empirical and legal research named after him. S.A. Muromtsev European University in St. Petersburg. He warned that the researchers could be falling into the trap of “false regression.” For example, the 23rd cycle of solar activity coincided with a decrease in violent crime in developed countries (a trend called the “Great Crime Decline”), which could also be explained only by space weather, although in reality, other factors could come into play: aging populations, reducing unemployment, developing security systems, and improving police work.

“Such false dependencies are illustrated by a humorous example about the “impact” of the number of pirates on global warming: although there is a strong correlation, the increase in average annual temperature cannot be explained by the fact that there are fewer pirates in the world.

Evgenia Kryukova, a candidate of legal sciences from Moscow State University, also criticized the above studies, noting, among other things, that the authors of the article on the interdependence of solar activity and crime “are psychologists, sociologists of Brazil and Portugal, about whose forensic practice there is no information,” and the study does not use primary sources but links to media that may make mistakes.

Thus, Kryukova summarizes, “at present, there are no reliable, complete scientific studies that would establish an unambiguous correlation between violence and solar activity.” “Similar hypotheses have been expressed by scientists from different scientific fields, but there is no reliable research data,” she emphasizes.

Space weather and climate on Earth

Another area that may feel the impact of solar activity is climate.

According to NASA experts, solar activity plays a minor role in the climate changes observed today. Citing a number of studies, they note that during the period of least solar activity, the planet could cool by 0.3 degrees Celsius, which at best would only slow down (but not more than) human-caused global warming. The effect will be “modest,”  since low solar activity is a temporary phenomenon.

We are currently in the 25th solar cycle, which dates back to 1749, when sunspot observations were systematically recorded (Revolution Notes). The maximum solar activity is anticipated to occur between 2024 and 2026. From the perspective of impact on climate, the world temperature is usually 0.1 degrees higher at the height of solar activity than it is at the minimum.

In theory, this cannot be directly compared to the anthropogenic effect, for instance. According to the deputy director of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, “the local climate response to maximum solar activity may be more pronounced, but it is difficult to say exactly where this cycle will manifest itself in advance.” Alexander Chernokulsky, RAS A.M. Obukhov.

The fact that the Sun is not responsible for today’s climate change is clearly demonstrated by a graph published by NASA, where the dynamics of the annual average temperature on Earth from 1880 to 2020 are superimposed on the curve of solar energy received during the same period of time (W/sq. m). You can see that since the 1950s, the Earth has received less energy from the Sun, and, on the contrary, the temperature has been increasing.


Comparison of the dynamics of the average annual temperature on Earth (°C) and received solar energy (W/sq. m) since 1880. Source: NASA

From scientific research to government action

According to Bogachev, in 2024, the peak of solar activity will be quite moderate if the Sun does not bring surprises. Much more serious solar storms are expected in the middle of this century. These predictions seem to be starting to attract the attention of not only scientists and businessmen involved in space programs, like Elon Musk, but also politicians.

Thus, in 2023, a group of experts at the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union—one of the main bodies of Europe—prepared an analytical note that examined the possible risks of a recurrence of a solar “superstorm”, which, in their opinion, will definitely happen because this is a cyclical process. Experts warn that due to “bad weather,” transformers may fail and banking systems may shut down.

According to them, there are also risks for undersea cables, which provide 90% of all Internet traffic. The mechanism of such a collapse is described in detail in the article by Sangeta Abdu Yoti, an employee of the Department of Computer Science at the University of California, USA, “Solar Superstorms: Planning for the Internet Apocalypse.”

The author emphasizes that the fiber optic cables themselves are reliably protected from geomagnetic storms. At the same time, repeaters are located at a distance of 50–150 km from each other to amplify optical signals, and they are vulnerable to failures.

We are talking about the influence of geo-induced currents (electric currents induced on the Earth’s surface by rapid changes in the geomagnetic field as a result of space weather phenomena), which can affect the passage of the signal. As a result, this can damage the cables.

Thus, EU experts conclude, modern society has become much more vulnerable than in the days of British astronomer Richard Carrington, who noticed extremely strong solar activity in 1859, when humanity was just entering the era of electricity.

“It is therefore important to have comprehensive emergency plans in place to respond and restore infrastructure after such an event. While existing response plans for other natural emergencies can provide a useful framework, the unique characteristics of space weather events require additional special measures.

Close international cooperation will be critical to achieving a coordinated response and the rapid restoration of cross-border infrastructure. Providing reliable communication channels in emergencies is of paramount importance, given the likelihood of disruption to existing telecommunications systems,” the policy brief said.

“My opinion is that most events on the Sun do not require a reaction, but, undoubtedly, the risks of man-made impact are always present, and, of course, it is better to have a clear action plan,” the expert summarizes.


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