July 14, 2024

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Solar storms could flip train signals from red to green, the study warns

Solar storms could flip train signals from red to green, the study warns

Whether it’s abandoning the line or a signal failure, rail commuters regularly face problems as they try to get to work.

But things could get worse soon, thanks to space weather.

A new study warns that train accidents could be caused by solar storms that shift their signals from red to green.

Cameron Patterson, a PhD researcher at Lancaster University and lead author of our research, said: “Our research shows that space weather poses a serious, albeit relatively rare, risk to the railway signaling system, potentially causing delays or even having more significant safety implications.” the study.

“This natural hazard must be taken seriously.”

Whether it’s abandoning the line or a signal failure, rail commuters regularly face problems as they try to get to work. But things could get worse soon, thanks to space weather. Pictured: Artist’s impression of a solar storm
A new study warns that train accidents could be caused by solar storms that turn signals from red to green (stock image)

Read more: Earth will be hit by intense solar storms next year: Scientists predict we will reach ‘solar maximum’ in 2024

Researchers have discovered a new relationship between the Sun’s magnetic field and the sunspot cycle, which could help predict when solar activity will peak.

The Sun is constantly blasting solar material into space, whether in a steady flow known as the “solar wind,” or in shorter, more energetic bursts of solar flares.

When this solar material hits Earth’s magnetic environment — known as the magnetosphere — it can create geomagnetic storms.

“The effects of these magnetic storms can range from moderate to severe, but in a world increasingly dependent on technology, their effects are more devastating than ever,” NASA explained.

For example, a solar storm in 1989 caused power outages across Quebec, while the Carrington Event in 1959 sparked fires at telegraph stations.

Worryingly, the danger of these storms is increasing as we approach “solar maximum” – the peak of the Sun’s 11-year activity cycle – which is expected to arrive in 2024.

In their new study, the researchers set out to understand how solar flares affect the railway industry.

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The team focused on two routes – the Preston to Lancaster section of the West Coast main line, and the Glasgow to Edinburgh line.

Worryingly, their models revealed how solar storms can create magnetically induced currents, which can interfere with electricity transmission and distribution networks.

“Our research suggests that space weather is capable of flipping the signal in either direction, turning a red signal into green or a green signal into red,” Patterson said.

The Sun is constantly blasting solar material into space, whether in a steady flow known as the “solar wind,” or in shorter, more energetic bursts of solar flares. When this solar material collides with Earth’s magnetic environment – known as the magnetosphere – it can create geomagnetic storms (artist’s impression)
Researchers say space weather can lead to two types of failure. “Right side” failures cause the signal to turn from green to red, while “Wrong side” failures cause the signal to turn from red to green (stock image)

Read more A huge ‘archipelago of sunspots’ has been spotted on the Sun

Scientists have discovered an ‘archipelago’ of sunspots on the surface of our star, which could shoot violent blasts of energy towards Earth.

“This is obviously very important from a safety perspective.”

Researchers say space weather strong enough to cause this effect occurs in the UK every few decades.

Patterson added: “By building a computer model of the signal path circuits using realistic specifications of the various components of the system, we found that space weather events capable of causing faults in these signal path circuits are expected in the UK every few decades.”

Researchers say space weather can lead to two types of failure.

“Right side” failures cause the signal to turn from green to red, while “wrong side” failures cause the signal to turn from red to green.

According to their model, “wrong-side” failures can be caused by weaker geomagnetic storms than “right-side” failures.

These weaker storms occur every one to two decades.

Based on the findings, the team calls on the railway industry to consider the risks of space weather and put in place measures to mitigate them.

Professor Jim Wild, co-author of the study, said: “Other industries such as aviation, electricity generation and transmission and the space sector are examining the risks to their operations and exploring how they can be mitigated.”

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“It is important that the railway sector is included in this planning.

“As our understanding of the risks of space weather improves, it is possible to think about how to reduce the risks.

“In the future, we could see space weather forecasting being used to make decisions about reducing railway operations if an extreme event is expected, just as meteorological forecasts are currently used.”

What is the solar cycle?

The Sun is a huge ball of hot, electrically charged gas that moves and generates a strong magnetic field.

This magnetic field goes through a cycle called the solar cycle.

Every 11 years or so, the Sun’s magnetic field completely flips, meaning the Sun’s north and south poles swap places.

The solar cycle affects activity on the Sun’s surface, such as sunspots caused by the Sun’s magnetic fields.

Every 11 years, the Sun’s magnetic field flips, meaning the Sun’s north and south poles change positions. The solar cycle affects activity on the Sun’s surface, leading to a greater number of sunspots during the strongest phases (2001) compared to the weaker phases (1996/2006)

One way to track the solar cycle is to count the number of sunspots.

The beginning of the solar cycle is solar minimum, or when the Sun has the fewest sunspots. Over time, solar activity – and the number of sunspots – increases.

The middle of the solar cycle is solar maximum, or when the Sun has the greatest number of sunspots.

As the cycle ends, it fades back to the solar minimum and then a new cycle begins.

Giant explosions on the Sun, such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections, also increase during the solar cycle.

These explosions send powerful bursts of energy and material into space that can have impacts on Earth.

For example, explosions can cause lights in the sky, called aurora borealis, or affect radio communications and power grids on Earth.

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