Researchers at Purdue University in the US have developed a new method to predict solar flares, further allowing authorities to adopt protective measures to protect satellites, power grids and astronauts against the devastating and costly effects of a massive solar storm.
The research for the development of the patent pending warning system has been carried out by Ephraim Fischbach, professor of physics at Purdue University and Jere Jenkins, a nuclear engineer and director of radiation laboratories in the School of Nuclear Engineering.
The new detection technique, based on the hypothesis that radioactive decay rates are influenced by solar activity, will operate by measuring variations in gamma radiation produced due to the decay of atoms in radioactive elements.
The Purdue experimental setup consists of a radioactive source, manganese 54, and a gamma-radiation detector.
When the experiment is being performed, the manganese 54 decays, further converting into chromium 54 and emitting a gamma ray, which is recorded by the detector for calculating the decay rate, the report revealed.
According to the researchers, the decay rate is expected to be constant but the recent investigations challenge the long-accepted rule.
Solar storms could be overwhelming if a flare is aimed at the Earth, thrashing the planet directly with potent charged particles, according to the research.
Fischbach said that because there is now a sophisticated infrastructure of satellites, power grids and electronic systems, a storm of higher magnitude would be catastrophic.
"Having a day and a half warning could be really helpful in averting the worst damage," added Fischbach.
Research also revealed that the Earth's distance from the sun is influencing the phenomenon of solar flares because the decay rates in January and July vary, during which Earth is closest and farthest from the sun, respectively.
"When the Earth is farther away, we have fewer solar neutrinos and the decay rate is a little slower," Jenkins said.
"When we are closer, there are more neutrinos, and the decay a little faster."
Image: A C3-class solar flare captured from Solar Dynamics Observatory. Photo: NASA/SDO/AIA.