Earthquakes could be triggered by streams of positively charged ions ejected by explosions on the surface of the sun, according to a new study
- Researchers in Rome studied the link between solar eruptions and earthquakes
- They found within 24 hours of a coronal mass eject new earthquakes occurred
- This could be caused by electromagnetic disturbances in the Earth’s surface triggered by large streams of positively charged ions erupted from the sun
Earthquakes are notoriously hard to predict, but a new study suggests they could be tied to explosions on the surface of the sun.
A team of researchers at the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Rome investigated the connection between coronal mass ejections – large release of plasma and other particles that often follow solar flares – and the frequency of earthquakes.
They found that within 24 hours of major explosions on the surface of the sun, there was a substantial increase in the number of earthquakes around the world that measured at least 5.6 on the Richter scale.
Researchers in Rome found a strong correlation between solar eruptions and new waves of earthquakes of at least a magnitude 5.6 on Earth
‘This statistical test of the hypothesis is very significant,’ researcher Giuseppe De Natale told Astronomy.
‘The probability that it’s just by chance that we observe this, is very, very low — less than 1 in 100,000.’
For the study, the team analyzed data from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite, a joint project from NASA and the European Space Agency, which orbits the sun and records data about coronal mass ejections, including the time and magnitude of each.
The team compared the SOHO data against 20 years of earthquake data from Earth and found that whenever positively charged ion streams from the sun were at peak strength, there would be a substantial increase in the number of earthquakes starting around 24 hours later.
To explain the connection, the team pointed to the piezoelectric effect, the well-documented phenomenon of quartz releasing electrical pulses when some external force causes it to compress.
The team suggested that electromagnetic disturbances caused by positively charged ion streams from coronal mass ejections could trigger electrical pulses on the Earth’s crust, agitating tectonic plates and faults and causing new quakes
Quartz makes up around 20% of the Earth’s crust and the team suggested that the large streams of positively charged ions from the sun creates electromagnetic disturbances when they enter Earth’s atmosphere, which in turn causes quarts in the Earth’s crust to compress.
The quarts then begins releasing electrical pulses that may agitate certain tectonic plates and faults, which causes new earthquakes.
This could also explain the well-documented phenomenon of radio wave disruptions and earthquake lighting – strange flashes of light in the sky that coincide with quakes even with no other storm activity.
Past research suggested these electromagnetic events might be triggered by the earthquakes themselves, but the latest findings suggest they may actually be part of the same broader phenomenon that first sets the earthquake in motion.
The team admits their findings so far have only established a correlation between solar eruptions and earthquakes and further study is required to firmly establish causality.
WHAT CAUSES EARTHQUAKES?
Catastrophic earthquakes are caused when two tectonic plates that are sliding in opposite directions stick and then slip suddenly.
Tectonic plates are composed of Earth’s crust and the uppermost portion of the mantle.
Below is the asthenosphere: the warm, viscous conveyor belt of rock on which tectonic plates ride.
They do not all not move in the same direction and often clash. This builds up a huge amount of pressure between the two plates.
Eventually, this pressure causes one plate to jolt either under or over the other.
This releases a huge amount of energy, creating tremors and destruction to any property or infrastructure nearby.
Severe earthquakes normally occur over fault lines where tectonic plates meet, but minor tremors – which still register on the Richter sale – can happen in the middle of these plates.
The Earth has fifteen tectonic plates (pictured) that together have molded the shape of the landscape we see around us today
These are called intraplate earthquakes.
These remain widely misunderstood but are believed to occur along minor faults on the plate itself or when ancient faults or rifts far below the surface reactivate.
These areas are relatively weak compared to the surrounding plate, and can easily slip and cause an earthquake.
Earthquakes are detected by tracking the size, or magnitude, and intensity of the shock waves they produce, known as seismic waves.
The magnitude of an earthquake differs from its intensity.
The magnitude of an earthquake refers to the measurement of energy released where the earthquake originated.
Earthquakes originate below the surface of the earth in a region called the hypocenter.
During an earthquake, one part of a seismograph remains stationary and one part moves with the earth’s surface.
The earthquake is then measured by the difference in the positions of the still and moving parts of the seismograph.