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NASA reveals how a powerful solar storm DESTROYED Elon Musk led SpaceX satellites

Hindustan Times logo Hindustan Times 01-04-2023 HT Tech

The Earth has been plagued by solar storm events this year. And while we have seen some really intense storms, including a terrifying G4-class geomagnetic storm last week, none have had the destructive effect of the one that hit the Earth on February 3, 2022. On that day, SpaceX ignored a solar storm forecast and went ahead with its launch schedule to deploy a fleet of its Starlink satellites. However, shortly after the launch, the solar storm ended up destroying as many as 40 of its satellites. NASA has conducted an analysis of the incident to find out exactly how the solar storm was able to destroy these satellites.

According to a report by Universetoday, a group of scientists from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the Catholic University of America came together to take a closer look at the event that occurred during the solar storm. The report stated, ?Their analysis identified a mass of plasma that impacted our planet's magnetosphere. The actual event was a halo coronal mass ejection (CME) from an active region in the northeast quadrant of the Sun?.

How a solar storm destroyed multiple satellites

The report further revealed that the CME was traveling at a mind-numbing speed of 690 kilometers per second. It eventually struck the magnetosphere of the Earth and created a geomagnetic storm. As the extremely hot and charged particles permeated through the magnetosphere, it began ionizing the upper atmosphere also known as the thermosphere. This increased the density of the upper atmosphere significantly over a very short period of time and caused it to swell up.

This thickening effect of the atmosphere made maneuverability of satellites much more difficult by creating a phenomenon known as atmospheric drag. In simple terms, it is the air resistance in a given space. When any object comes across air resistance, their momentum will slow down. And trying to turn and move can become more difficult.

The small size of Starlink satellites ensured they would be unable to move through this drag onto a higher, and safer, altitude. It eventually led to 40 of the satellites crashing back towards the Earth.

The thing to note here is that the solar storm that took down the Starlink satellites was not even a strong one. It can only be imagined what a severe solar storm can do to satellites, even the bigger ones, orbiting in the upper atmosphere of the Earth.

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