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Big storms on the Sun can have big impacts on Earth. They can damage satellites, disrupt communications, interfere with animal navigation, and knock out power grids. And a recent study says they might even trigger earthquakes.

Solar storms are common. They’re triggered by the Sun’s magnetic field, which gets tangled up. A tangle can snap, sending a giant cloud of charged particles billowing through the solar system. Most of them are aimed away from Earth, but some do hit our planet.

Researchers in Italy looked at records of solar storms compiled by a Sun-watching satellite from 1996 through 2016. They compared those numbers to records of earthquakes. And they found a correlation. It was especially strong when the solar storm clouds contained a lot of protons — the components of atoms with a positive charge. There was a jump in the number of earthquakes of magnitude 5.6 or greater within 24 hours of a storm’s arrival.

The researchers suggested that the storms could provide the final “push” along fault lines that were about to give way. Protons would follow Earth’s magnetic field down to the ground. That could give quartz rocks along a fault line a jolt of electricity. The jolt might be enough to trigger an earthquake.

Earlier studies looked for a connection between earthquakes and the Sun, but came up empty. This one will need to stand up to further review to confirm that earthquakes can be triggered by the Sun.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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