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The Effects of Magnetic Storms on Earth

written by: Darlene Zagata•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 5/31/2009

Magnetic storms are associated with the sun’s solar flares. Disturbances occur in the magnetosphere of earth but what effect do these disruptions have on earth?

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    Earth's Magnetic Field

    To understand the effects of magnetic storms on the Earth it is important to have a basic understanding of what exactly the planet is made of. The inner core of Earth is solid iron while the outer core is liquid iron and the mantle is comprised of dense rock. The constant spinning of the liquid metal core generates an invisible force field. The magnetic field shields Earth from harmful radiation. When a magetic storm occurs it creates disturbances in the magnetic force field surrounding our planet. The Earth's magnetic field plays an integral part in the protection and development of all life on Earth because without it, destruction would occur from the harmful radiation of the cosmos.

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    Types of Magnetic Storms

    So what exactly are magnetic storms? Magnetic storms occur when bursts of high energy particles from the sun are aimed towards the planet disrupting Earth's magnetic field. During a magnetic storm there is an increase of electric currents in the magnetosphere which is where the influx and movement of the particles that are charged in a magnetic storm is controlled. The magnetospherfe is the outer laying of what we call the ionosphere and is critical in protecting life on earth.

    Another type of magnetic storm is known as a geomagnetic storm. Geomagnetic storms are caused by a solar wind shock that impacts the magnetic field. These storms or disturbances can last an average of 24 to 48 hours, perhaps longer.

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    One of the physical effects produced by magnetic disturbances are known as auroras. An aurora is a display of lights, usually seen in the night sky near the polar regions. People who have seen the aurora borealis marvel at the phenomenon which appears as colorful rays of light that seem to dance across the night sky. Auroras are caused by charged particles from the sun that interact with the Earth's magnetosphere.

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    Effects of Magnetic Storms

    Magnetic storms can affect radio signals and communications. They can affect satellites and electrical power. But there are also more serious consequences when our atmospheric protection is weakened, exposing us to more of the effects of a magnetic storm. Intense solar flares can cause radiation poisoning which could result in cancer and other physical damage. Disturbances in the magnetic field can also affect the navigation of birds and other migratory animals. These disturbances affect the animals because they use the Earth's magnetic field for navigation which is how they can find their way when traveling great distances during migration. Disruptions in the magnetic field can cause animals and birds to become disoriented.