Complex Things in Simple Words | How are we affected by magnetic storms

Every time we have a headache for no reason, high blood pressure or just a bad mood, we suspect magnetic storms. This phenomenon has already been studied to a certain extent. However, its effect on the human body is not so simple.

How are we affected by magnetic storms?

1. What is a magnetic storm?

Geomagnetic storm is a disturbance of the magnetic field of our planet, during which it increases significantly. As a result, the conditions for the passage of radio waves in the upper atmosphere change, and induced currents may occur in electrical circuits that can damage them.

The cause of geomagnetic storms is solar flares. The condensation of charged particles ejected into space during such events reaches the Earth’s magnetosphere, interacts with it, and causes disturbances. During one cycle of solar activity, which lasts an average of 11 years, dozens of storms can be observed, strong enough to cause induced currents, and hundreds of smaller ones that can disrupt radio communications.

2. How to predict a magnetic storm?

The accuracy of predicting geomagnetic storms is tied to the activity of the Sun. The periods of its maximum are known to within a year, and scientists can confidently say that then there will be more disturbances of the Earth’s magnetosphere. But it is impossible to answer exactly when they will happen.

A few days in advance, scientists can only approximately determine whether there will be powerful flares in the near future. These, in turn, are related to the number of sunspots. As for the warning that a geomagnetic storm will be observed specifically on a certain day, it can only be given after the flare has occurred. This usually happens in a matter of hours or tens of hours before the beginning of the phenomenon.

3. Do magnetic storms really affect people’s well-being?

If practically no one doubts how magnetic storms can damage equipment, then scientists do not have consensus on whether they worsen people’s health. There are some separate studies confirming this effect, but there are no conclusions recognized by all doctors. 

It is known that during geomagnetic storms, the Earth’s atmosphere can become less dense. This causes a change in pressure, which can affect the body like a sudden change in the weather. People who are considered to be weather-dependent are at risk. The function of a not very healthy cardiovascular system may be disrupted. This is confirmed by many, but not all, studies. 

As for the direct effect of changes in the magnetic field on the human nervous system, it is very insignificant. Fluctuations in tens and hundreds of nanoteslas are too small to cause changes in our bodies. More sensitive animals can react to them, but there are no reliable observations of deviations in human behavior during geomagnetic storms.

4. What do doctors recommend?

If you do feel tired, have a headache, migraine, or increased heartbeat during a geomagnetic storm, you can take measures to overcome these symptoms. First of all, don’t stress yourself out. One explanation for the fact that people feel bad during such periods is the nocebo effect. That is, you may just feel that your well-being has worsened.

On the other hand, a geomagnetic storm can have a real impact on the cardiovascular system. Doctors advise on such days not to overexert yourself, get enough sleep, drink tea, and, if necessary, take sedatives and medications against high blood pressure.

5. How do solar flares affect astronauts?

All of the above concerns people on Earth. For them, the planet’s magnetic field and atmosphere act as a shield against cosmic radiation. However, astronauts in Earth orbit no longer have this protection. Therefore, during a geomagnetic storm, they experience noticeable damage from the charged particles that cause it.

Their effect is similar to receiving any large dose of radiation: they increase the chance of developing many dangerous diseases in the future. By the way, even airline passengers flying near the poles of the Earth, where the planet’s magnetic field allows charged particles to penetrate deep into the atmosphere, can receive radiation damage these days. 

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