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Nearby supernova and solar wind

  1. Apr 10, 2005 #1
    Suppose there were a nearby supernova, say 10 to 20 lightyears away. It's not close enough to incenerate the earth. Would such an event cause the solar wind to become swept away? If so, would there come a great earthquake as the wave went by the earth? I suppose that the gravity of such a wave before going by the earth would pretty much have the same effect as it does now. But it seems that there would be a sudden shift as the wave passed by. Everything is symmetrical in front of us, but then, within an hour or a few minutes everything is behind us. In other words, instead of solar wind all going out evenly in all directions from the sun, for a brief time it is all swept in one direction. So then there is a gigantic wall of concentrated solar particles headed in our direction. At first it is at the distance of the sun and does not have any effect. The net gravitational effect would be a slight tidal effect towards the sun. This direction of tidal effect would be in the same direction until the moment it passes by; it would get stronger as the wall approached earth, and then suddenly the tidal effect would be in the opposite direction. Would such a sudden shift cause a devestating earthquake? Thanks.
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2005
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 11, 2005 #2


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    First, I think that there are too many variables in the question to come up with an answer. However, since about 98%+ of a supernova's energy is released as neutrinos with the rest being a gravitational surge and then the molecular ejecta travelling at about 0.20 c, I would have to guess that such a nearby supernove would make a helluva display to watch but not much else unless it was some type of "Hypernova" with enough radiation (when it got here) to do significant damage to our atmosphere. A list of stars within 20 ly of us can be found at:

    I think that only Sirius, Altair and Procyon are above mass type G like our sun, and most are smaller at type K and a lot of M's. If we are talking about type II supernovae, the neutrinos would not do much but excite the nerds at the neutrino detectors, and the gamma and X ray surges would be blocked by our atmosphere as is done now resulting in large "particle cascades" we see from GRB's now, only a whole lot more in one, big surge. I don't think that the gravitational surge could be large enough to cause any Earthquakes. But, a lot of Doomsayers have links to pages that would say we would be slammed or radiated into oblivion.

    I just think that the inverse square law will work in our favor, but I was wrong once before, I think..... :confused:
  4. Apr 11, 2005 #3
    Thanks for the info.

    Let's see. Suppose a quarter of the solar wind was blown off its normal course and headed in our direction in a wall of about 20 times its normal density of the solar wind, where such a wall was about the size of the earth's orbit... for starters. What king of gravitational pull would it exert? And would this constitue a major shock when it suddenly changed from a gravitational force pulling towards the sun to a force pulling away from the sun? thanks.
  5. Apr 12, 2005 #4


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    I'm not much on solar system stuff, so I just keep a bunch of pages bookmarked to look it up when I need to.

    But, when you say "solar wind" you are just talking about particles we get every day plus the increases that come with some big CME's. No EM radiation included in the definition. At: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_wind it gives a good summary of solar wind:

    The effects on Earth from solar storms, including EM radiation can be found about 2/3 of the way down at: http://www.solcomhouse.com/solar.html [Broken] where it states:
    That billion tons is actually no more mass than a very small mountain (or large hill) and is the total ejecta spread out over a large area. At the very bottom of that page is a chart showing the ~particle numbers of type S1 to S 5 flares and you can see that even the difference of 20 times "normal", as in your example above, the solar wind (particles) is far less than the spread from S1 to S5 particles that would be hitting our (Earth's) magnetic field for deflection.

    But, since you had asked about gravitational effects, someone could probably put the math to it, but I wouldn't think that such a small amount of actual mass would have any noticable gravitational effects that we could notice or measure at all. The effects on the aurora, power grids, satellites, etc., however, would be huge.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  6. Apr 12, 2005 #5
    93,000,000mile*1.609344km/mile*1second/450km=332597.76seconds=3.85days for the solar wind to get from the sun to the earth.

    800kg/s*332597.76s= 266078208kg of mass within the radius of the earth.=didelly squat.

    OK, could a nearby supernova trigger gigantic solar flares?
  7. Apr 14, 2005 #6


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    For that to happen, there would have to be some effect which would cause significant change in the way the sun's magnetic field is wound by differential rotation. It is this differential and "magnetic breaking" that causes solar flares (and CME's) as:
    This magnetic effect causes flares as:
    *1. http://science.nasa.gov/ssl/pad/solar/sunturn.htm [Broken]
    *2. http://www.solcomhouse.com/solar.html [Broken]
    *3. http://ngdc.noaa.gov/stp/SOLAR/ftpsolarflares.html#cfi [Broken]

    Also, some flare info at:
    (Sorry to be so generic and non-tech with these links)

    Bottom line is that since so much of the generation of the sun's magnetic field depends on differential rotation, and since this field is so determinate in producing solar flares and CME's, I can't think of any nearby supernova influence strong enough to cause a change in the sun's field/flares.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  8. Apr 14, 2005 #7
    OK,... what about a plasmoid caused by the nova wind of the supernova being interrupted by the magnetic field of the sun? I've seen how plasmoids are created when the solar wind interacts with the magnetic field of the earth. It casuses the magnetic field not to go from North to South, but the wind stretches the field lines far behind the earth and they get pinched together to form their own circular magnetic closed loop without returning to earth. These closed loops then travel away from the sun and carry quite a lot of energy, so I am told. Perhaps a charged interstellar wind, or maybe just a lot of solar wind swept back towards the sun, might cause a gigantic plasmoid as it sweeps by the magnetic field of the sun. Would this sun plasmoid have a magnetic field strong enough to cause an extreme earthquake if the magnetic field of the plasmoid from the sun were to first pull on the earth's magnetic field and then push on it with a great force? The earth's magnetic field emminates from the iron core. So I wonder if such a force on it would shake the core of the earth and then the surface. Thanks.
  9. Apr 17, 2005 #8
    I suppose one might think that a plasmoid created in this way could not contain any more energy than the solar wind used to create it. And as I've calculated, this is nowhere near enough to create an earthquake. However, it might be that it takes far less energy to sweep the sun's magnetic field lines far behind and pinch it together than the energy contained in the plasmoid as a whole.
  10. Apr 19, 2005 #9


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    The nastiest effects would come from things like destruction of the ozone layer, most satellites being zapped (only a few military ones sufficiently hardened to be certain of surviving) or de-orbited (Earth's atmosphere expands, applies to LEOsats only), terrestrial power grids going bonkers, and so on. There'd be some awesome aurorae!
  11. Apr 22, 2005 #10
    I was not able to find a clear statement about how much energy is contained in plasmoids created because of the interaction of the solar wind with the earth's magnetic field. I found that there are about 5 created per day. And there can't be too much of a depletion of energy from the earth, or such a reduction of energy would have observable consequences for earth and perhaps the moon. Nevertheless, the energy carried away does seem to be more than the energy of the solar wind that creates them. So I imagine that a solar wind swept back across the sun by a nearby supernova could create a plasmoid for the same reason. I suspect that such a solar plasmoid would be stronger than a plasmoid created by earth by a factor as great as the sun's magnetic field is to the earth's magnetic field. And I've read that the magnetic field associated with sunspots are 2500 gauss whereas the strength of the earth's magnetic field is less than 1 gauss. If this were contained in a plasmoid that swept across the earth could this seriously shake the earth's core? I suppose it would depend on the fast the magnetic field of the plasmoid swept across the earth. If it were slow, then there would probably be no change. I assume plasmoids travel about the same speed as the solar wind which is about 500km/s.
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