Solar flares cause power blackouts, grid failure, GPS crashes and more. But can they hurt humans? Or are we safe from them?
With the increasing frequency of solar flares due to the Sun being in the middle of its 11-year solar cycle, questions arise about the effects of solar flares. Although solar flares have been known to cause some effect on the environment, there has been no case where humans have been harmed as a result of solar flares hitting Earth. But can solar flares actually hurt humans?
What are solar flares?
According to NASA, Solar flares are photon flares emitted from the Sun which travel from the flare site. They are rated on the basis of their intensity with the highest being an X-rated solar flare. Solar Flares occur due to Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) on the surface of the Sun which send charged photon particles hurtling towards Earth.
Solar flares impact Earth only when they occur on the side of the sun facing Earth. Because flares are made of photons, they travel out directly from the flare site, so if we can see the flare, we can be impacted by it, according to NASA.
Can solar flares hurt humans?
According to a statement given by NASA in 2017, “Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground,” the space agency said in a September 2017 statement. “However—when intense enough—they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.”
Dale Gary, PhD, distinguished professor of physics at the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Center for Solar-Terrestrial Research told health.com, “There are potential health effects for anyone exposed to that high-energy radiation, but actually we are protected because those rays and particles get absorbed into our atmosphere.”
However, people travelling in planes as well as astronauts could be at risk of exposure to solar radiation through solar flare due to their high altitude. Some experts believe that exposure to solar flare affects cardiovascular output. According to a scientific study published in Scientific Reports in 2018, “Disturbed geomagnetic activity can also exacerbate existing diseases and is correlated with significant increases in cardiac arrhythmia, cardiovascular disease, incidence of myocardial infarction related death, alterations in blood flow, increased blood pressure, and epileptic seizures.”
Although various experts have different opinions on the matter, you shouldn’t get worried yet as a strong enough solar flare which could hurt humans isn’t a common occurrence by any means.