‘There’s no telling what effects it could have on the children living there’ says Puyyur resident Beatriz Vila
Some highlands residents in Bolivia have been outraged by the sight of a bright light shining a record 160 lux (0.052°C) above ground. At just 22.7°K above the equator it is as if the sun has suddenly grown a pair of wings and erupted. It’s a hallucination for many, but in the highlands it’s a possible reality.
The phenomenon is due to solar flares emanating from a huge magnetic storm, like the giant sunspot N25 that blew up on Saturday. This phenomenon is called an solar superflare, but have you ever wondered what that means? Guardian Earth has.
A solar superflare or solar storm is characterized by an event that is not restricted to the sun but impacts Earth. These big eruptions of energy radiate from the sun at incredibly high energy and brightness. This can cause a broad range of damages to space satellites, communications lines and the power grid.
No one has observed an eruption of this magnitude on Earth for at least the past 100 years. Thermal studies have indicated that a superflare could potentially cause high frequency disruptions of electricity transmission systems. Even isolated effects like interference with communications have more serious consequences on Earth.
The recent particle-like aurora have been a joy for many. It’s a welcome brightening up in an otherwise monotonous La Paz. But such an intensity causes more than just a boost to tourism. It makes Bolivians worry about their environment.
In mid-September, local resident Beatriz Vila posted pictures of the unusual phenomenon on Facebook. The pictures have attracted widespread attention from the media and she’s been contacted by organisations like the World Wildlife Fund in Bolivia. People in the village of Puyyur have also been talking about it in conversation. It’s a source of worry. “I really want to learn about what this might mean and how we might prepare. It’s really hard to be without any air conditioning, it’s quite hot here, so there’s no telling what effects it could have on the children living there.”
Vila is one of a few villagers who are in contact with the outside world, though it’s unclear how many other people there are living in such areas. The reason for her concern is the solar cycle in the solar wind and so she is worried about changes in the geomagnetic field that come from strong solar explosions. When a massive solar flare strikes Earth, we are more exposed to radiation.
“We in the highlands depend on the magnetic field, which is what regulates our general conditions like strength of rainfall, and gravity in general. Things that we couldn’t imagine when we were growing up, like particles from the sun. The altitude also plays a role in the cyclical variation of the sun. Earth’s magnetic field depends a lot on the orbit of Venus, which changes over time, which is when changes occur.
“So what is the likelihood of this change? Most of us, especially the miners, don’t know, but we all have to follow the rules and keep our eyes open for any drastic changes in the magnetic field.”
A solar-calculated geomagnetic minimum to the present time was predicted, but when it occurred back in 2012, there were no signs of a strong solar explosion. Some sources expect a solar-calculated minimum to occur sometime in the middle of this century, but it’s hard to predict. So right now, everyone in the La Paz is concerned, but nobody can see anything definite.