What does this data represent?

This graph is updated every 5 minutes and provides updated information regarding low and high energy proton levels currently streaming past Earth. The data is measured via a sensor on board the GOES-13 spacecraft.

The sun is a big mass of energy. The sun produces high energy protons, and the solar wind carries these protons throughout our solar system. However during solar flare activity, energetic protons are blown violently outwards, sometimes towards earth. Energetic protons can reach Earth within 30 minutes of a major flare's peak. During such an event (big ones are also known as Solar Proton Events), Earth is showered with highly energetic solar particles (primarily protons) released from the flare site. When these protons arrive at Earth and enter the atmosphere over the polar regions, much enhanced ionization is produced at altitudes below 100 km. Ionization at these low altitudes is particularly effective in absorbing HF radio signals and can render HF communications impossible throughout the polar regions. This effect is called Radio Blackouts. This type of event is also known as a Polar Cap Absorption Event or PCA.

Example of a large scale proton event

Radiation Storm

A solar radiation storm, which is also sometimes called a solar energetic particle (SEP) event, is much what it sounds like: an intense inflow of radiation from the sun. Both CME's and solar flares can carry such radiation, made up of protons and other charged particles. The radiation is blocked by the magnetosphere and atmosphere, so cannot reach humans on Earth. Such a storm could, however, harm humans traveling from Earth to the moon or Mars, though it has little to no effect on airplane passengers or astronauts within Earth's magnetosphere. Solar radiation storms can also disturb the regions through which high frequency radio communications travel. Therefore, during a solar radiation storm, airplanes traveling routes near the poles which cannot use GPS, but rely exclusively on radio communications may be re-routed.

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, damage to electronics, memory and imaging systems on satellites, and radiation poisoning to astronauts outside of Earth's magnetosphere.

These charged particles travel much faster than a CME plasma cloud and may reach Earth within half hour to several hours after a strong solar flare. Not all flares will produce a Radiation Storm.

More information regarding Radiation Storms can be found at the following link http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/NOAAscales/index.html#SolarRadiationStorms.

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