Magnetic fields and magnetospheres are beyond the scope of this blog post. However, I will give a brief explanation as to what they are, so that we all have the same frame of reference.
Artist rendering of what solar influence looks like interacting with the magnetic field
1) The first is a radio blackout, which is a disturbance of the ionosphere caused by X-ray emissions of a solar flare. Radio blackouts caused by space weather are measured by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on a scale that goes from 1 (minor) to 5 (extreme). In this event, the density of the lower region, known as the D-region, is increased, causing radio waves to be misdirected or absorbed. Conditions in the D region of the ionosphere have a dramatic effect on high frequency (3 - 30 MHz) communications and low frequency navigation systems. Examples of low frequency navigation systems would be VOR (VHF Omni-directional Range), Radar, and transponders. The intensity of the X rays determines how long the radio blackout last. It can last from as little as a few minutes up to several hours. Radio blackouts affect communications primarily at middle to low latitudes, but only on the dayside of Earth.
2) The second type of event is a solar radiation storm, which is also sometimes called a solar energetic particle (SEP) event . These happen when an explosion on the sun accelerates solar protons toward where energetic particles from the Sun, primarily protons, elevate the levels of radiation near Earth. Radiation storms cause harmful levels of radiation above the shielding provided by our atmosphere. Solar radiation storms are rated on a scale from S1 (minor) to S5 (extreme), determined by how many very energetic, fast solar particles move through a given space in the atmosphere. At their most extreme, solar radiation storms can cause complete high frequency radio blackouts, severe damage to electronics, effect memory and imaging systems on satellites. These storms potentially have an effect on astronauts and, to a lesser degree, passengers in commercial jets. A solar radiation storm can arrive in as little as 10 minutes and may continue bombarding Earth for a few hours to as long as several days.
3) The third type of event, a geomagnetic storm, is caused by a gust in the solar wind, such as a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), energizing Earth's magnetic field. These disturbances reach Earth in as little as 18 hours to 4 days and may last for a day or two. Geomagnetic storms can play havoc with power grids damage satellites, but are also responsible for the magnificent auroras we enjoy watching. Geomagnetic storms are measured by ground-based instruments that observe how much the horizontal component of Earth's magnetic field varies. Based on this measurement, the storms are categorized from G1 (minor) to G5 (extreme). In the most extreme cases transformers in power grids may be damaged, spacecraft operation and satellite tracking can be hindered, high frequency radio propagation and global positioning system (GPS) can be blocked, and auroras may appear much further south than normal.
If you're into Ham Radio here is a good site.
A link to the NOAA space weather prediction center that shows the different levels of space weather and their effects can be found here.
Here's is a NASA video that talks about the Sun and the different types and causes of space weather.
Well that's it for this blog installment. The next post will cover the subject of bombogenesis. Rebecca