This image captured by Nasa shows a solar flare. The largest solar storm ever recorded, The Carrington Event in 1859, took out telegraph machines across the US, reportedly causing sparks to fly from some equipment - some bad enough to set fires
A devastating solar storm is a matter of 'when, not if', according to the Met Office. Solar storms - high-speed clouds of radioactive particles - are the focus of the Solar Orbiter mission (artist's impression) which will launch from Cape Canaveral, in 2020
These potentially devastating storms are the focus of a new European Space Agency satellite dubbed the Solar Orbiter – a mission part-funded by the UK Space Agency. British engineers are putting the finishing touches to the satellite this week before sending it to Germany to begin a year-long test campaign. It was constructed at an Airbus factory in Stevenage, and is currently being prepared to travel to Germany for intensive testing ahead of its flight. The satellite is due to launch in 2020 from Cape Canaveral in Florida, USA.
The largest solar storm ever recorded, The Carrington Event in 1859, took out telegraph machines across the US, purportedly causing sparks to fly from equipment – some bad enough to set fires inside offices. Scientists have previously warned that a repeat of the event could grind the world's high-tech infrastructure to a halt.
They think that the big solar incidents, like the Carrington Event, happen between one in 100 or one in 200 years, so it is a case of ‘not if, but when’ we have one. They're looking for solar flares which can knock out high frequency telecommunications, coronal mass ejections (CMEs) which have the potential to take out our power grids and solar radiation which impact satellite communications systems and GPS.
The ESA's Solar Orbiter will observe the Sun's poles to study its atmosphere, known as the Corona. This is the region where solar storms originate, and scientists hope that shedding light on how the Corona forms will also provide answers on what triggers the storms.
Solar Orbiter will fly within 27 million miles (43 million km) of the solar surface to closely inspect our star's poles. Its heat shields are expected to reach temperatures of up to 600°C (1,112°F) during its closest flybys. Engineers designed the spacecraft to withstand extremes of temperature –scorching heat from the Sun battering one side of the satellite, while the other remains frozen because the orbit keeps it in permanent shadow.