Power companies prepare as solar storms set to hit Earth

Three large explosions from the Sun over the past few days have prompted U.S. government scientists to caution users of satellite, telecommunications and electric equipment to prepare for possible disruptions over the next few days.



Or, as National Geographic informs us: "Storms are brewing about 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) away, and if one of them reaches Earth, it could knock out communications, scramble GPS, and leave thousands without power for weeks to months."







"The magnetic storm that is soon to develop probably will be in the moderate
to strong level," said Joseph Kunches, a space weather scientist at the Space Weather Prediction Center, a division of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).





He said solar storms this week could affect communications and global
positioning system (GPS) satellites and might even produce an aurora visible as far south as Minnesota and Wisconsin.



An aurora, called aurora borealis or the northern lights in northern latitudes, is a natural light display in the sky in the Arctic and Antarctic regions caused by the collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in the high altitude atmosphere.



Major disruptions from solar activity are rare but have had serious impacts in the past.



In 1989, a solar storm took down the power grid in Quebec, Canada, leaving about six million people without power for several hours.





The largest solar storm ever recorded was in 1859 when
communications infrastructure was limited to telegraphs.



The 1859 solar storm hit telegraph offices around the world and caused a giant aurora visible as far south as the Caribbean Islands.



Some telegraph operators reported electric shocks. Papers caught fire. And many telegraph systems continued to send and receive signals even after operators disconnected batteries, NOAA said on its website.



A storm of similar magnitude today could cause up to $2 trillion in damage globally, according to a 2008 report by the National Research Council.



U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
assistant secretary Kathryn Sullivan said the storms pose a growing threat to
critical infrastructure such as satellite communications, navigation systems and electrical transmission equipment. Solar storms release particles that can temporarily disable or permanently destroy fragile computer circuits.



"I don't think this week's solar storms will be anywhere near that. This will be a two or three out of five on the NOAA Space Weather Scale," said Kunches.



SOLAR SCALE



The NOAA Space Weather Scale (left - click on image for larger version) measures the intensity of a solar storm from one being the lowest intensity to five being the highest, similar to scales that measure the severity of hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes.



The first of the three solar explosions from the sun this week already passed the Earth on Thursday with little impact, Kunches said, noting,
the second was passing the Earth now and "seems to be stronger."



And the third, he said, "We'll have to see what happens over the next few
days. It could exacerbate the disturbance in the Earth's magnetic field caused by the second (storm) or do nothing at all." (At right: click for larger image (courtesy NOAA) to see impacts of solar explosions on Earth).



Power grid managers receive alerts from the Space Weather Prediction Center to tell them to prepare for solar events, which peak about every 12 years, Tom Bogdan, director of the center said.



He said the next peak, called a solar maximum, was expected in 2013.



"We're coming up to the next solar maximum, so we expect to see more of these storms coming from the sun over the next three to five years," Bogdan said.









Source:


Reuters,"Power companies prepare as solar storms set to hit Earth", accessed August 7, 2011

The Atlantic Wire, "Latest Global Crisis: Solar Storms Are Set to Hit the Earth", accessed August 7, 2011

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