Solar storms cause thousands of heart-related deaths in some years – New Scientist

Solar eruptions sometimes cause significant disturbance to the Earth’s magnetic field. This can disrupt people’s biological clocks and thereby affect their hearts.

Solar storms that disrupt the Earth’s magnetic field cause up to 5,500 heart-related deaths in some years in the United States. It follows from research conducted by epidemiologist Carolina Zilli Vieira and her colleagues at Harvard University.

The sun undergoes a cycle of high and low activity that is repeated approximately every eleven years. During periods of high activity, it throws charged particles and magnetized plasma into space, disturbing the Earth’s magnetic field.

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These so-called solar storms can cause disturbances in our electricity grid and cause satellites to crash. In addition, a handful of studies indicate that they increase the risk of heart attack. But so far, these studies have been too small to provide conclusive evidence.

tense heart

The researchers examined deaths between 1985 and 2013 in 263 U.S. cities. They then compared heart-related deaths with data on solar storms.

They found that deaths due to heart disease were higher on days when solar storms had disrupted the Earth’s magnetic field. In years of high solar activity, it is estimated that 5,500 more than the average died of a heart attack or other cardiovascular complication.

To better understand the mechanisms behind this phenomenon, Zilli Vieira and her colleagues analyzed electrocardiograms of more than 800 men in the United States. It is a test that measures the electrical activity of the heart. The tests had been performed on these men as part of a long-term health examination.

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When a solar storm disturbed the Earth’s magnetic field for 24 hours before the test, the men were more likely to show reduced heart rate variability. It is a sign that their hearts were strained. The association was particularly strong in men who had previously been diagnosed with heart disease.

“It sounds far-fetched, but they did a robust analysis,” said cardiologist Arnagretta Hunter of the Australian National University in Canberra. “When we think of cardiovascular risk factors, we usually think of things like high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking. It suggests that we should pay more attention to the impact of the environment in a broader sense.”

Biological watch

Solar storms move the Earth’s magnetic field. This disrupts the normal circadian rhythm, also known as our biological clock. This rhythm plays an important role in regulating our heart rate and other bodily functions, says Zilli Vieira.

Higher solar activity has previously been associated with an increase in depression, suicide and premature birth. According to Zilli Vieira, these phenomena can also occur from circadian rhythm disorders. “When you consider that the sun accounts for more than 99 percent of the mass of our solar system, it makes sense that it can affect our health in several ways,” she says.

Researchers are now trying to understand exactly how solar activity affects the heart. Based on that knowledge, they want to find ways to protect vulnerable people from upcoming solar storms.

The next big peak in solar activity is expected in 2025. “I think people need to be aware of this. Hopefully in the future we can develop some mitigating measures, “says Zilli Vieira.

Other animal species also appear to be affected by the phenomenon. For example, whales strand more often during solar storms, and carrier pigeons are longer about reaching their destination.

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