View Full Version : Nasty Solar Storms on Horizon. Threatens Communications on Earth.

Jun 10, 2010, 07:27 AM
I'll be so pissed if my Mac gets fried. :eek:

More Active Sun Means Nasty Solar Storms Ahead

The sun is about to get a lot more active, which could have ill effects on Earth. So to prepare, top sun scientists met Tuesday to discuss the best ways to protect Earth's satellites and other vital systems from the coming solar storms.

Solar storms occur when sunspots on our star erupt and spew out flumes of charged particles that can damage power systems. The sun's activity typically follows an 11-year cycle, and it looks to be coming out of a slump and gearing up for an active period.

"The sun is waking up from a deep slumber, and in the next few years we expect to see much higher levels of solar activity," said Richard Fisher, head of NASA's Heliophysics Division. "At the same time, our technological society has developed an unprecedented sensitivity to solar storms. The intersection of these two issues is what we're getting together to discuss."

Fisher and other experts met at the Space Weather Enterprise Forum, which took place in Washington, D.C., at the National Press Club.

Bad news for gizmos

People of the 21st century rely on high-tech systems for the basics of daily life. But smart power grids, GPS navigation, air travel, financial services and emergency radio communications can all be knocked out by intense solar activity.

A major solar storm could cause twenty times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina, warned the National Academy of Sciences in a 2008 report, "Severe Space Weather Events—Societal and Economic Impacts." [Photos: Sun storms.]

Luckily, much of the damage can be mitigated if managers know a storm is coming. That's why better understanding of solar weather, and the ability to give advance warning, is especially important.

Putting satellites in 'safe mode' and disconnecting transformers can protect electronics from damaging electrical surges.

"Space weather forecasting is still in its infancy, but we're making rapid progress," said Thomas Bogdan, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo.

Eyes on the sun

NASA and NOAA work together to manage a fleet of satellites that monitor the sun and help to predict its changes.

A pair of spacecraft called STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory) is stationed on opposite sides of the sun, offering a combined view of 90 percent of the solar surface. In addition, SDO (the Solar Dynamics Observatory), which just launched in February 2010, is able to photograph solar active regions with unprecedented spectral, temporal and spatial resolution. Also, an old satellite called the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE), which launched in 1997, is still chugging along monitoring winds coming off the sun. And there are dozens more dedicated to solar science.

"I believe we're on the threshold of a new era in which space weather can be as influential in our daily lives as ordinary terrestrial weather." Fisher said. "We take this very seriously indeed."

Yahoo News Link (http://tinyurl.com/2edqlvp)

Jun 10, 2010, 07:35 AM
On the upside, much more Aurora (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurora_%28astronomy%29) activity! :)

Jun 10, 2010, 07:53 AM
Worse? Communication between humans is already pretty bad.

Jun 10, 2010, 07:56 AM
Whatever next.. woman sues the Sun for wrong turn after following GPS? :p


Rodimus Prime
Jun 10, 2010, 10:01 AM
it can get pretty bad. Worse case is if a big flare hits with the right polarity it can knock out our most of our world wide power grid for months because it will blow up our huge transformers. The power spike from them would make the huge ones go boom. The way to protect those things from being damage is to shut them down during the hit.

Jun 10, 2010, 10:10 AM
Interesting, since the prediction is that this current supspot cycle is going to be at nearly 50% the amplitude of the previous one. So if we didn't get everything in the world fried from 1998-2002, we 'ain't' going to see that happen from 2012-2016. :rolleyes:


Jun 10, 2010, 10:12 AM
Y2K all over again :rolleyes:

Jun 10, 2010, 10:41 AM
Interesting, since the prediction is that this current supspot cycle is going to be at nearly 50% the amplitude of the previous one. So if we didn't get everything in the world fried from 1998-2002, we 'ain't' going to see that happen from 2012-2016. :rolleyes:


There are about 10x more things to get fried now than there was then. And, so much more of what we have have been miniaturized, and so less robust to power surges. Those old time electronics were often over-engineered. The tendency since then has been to save costs by reducing that robustness.

But I agree with you, this is likely going to be a non-event. Doom-and-Gloom headlines attract eyeballs.

Jun 10, 2010, 10:58 AM
On the upside, much more Aurora (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurora_%28astronomy%29) activity! :)

Ooh! I loves me some auroras.

Jun 10, 2010, 11:27 AM
I think this is more of an issue for satellites than our ground-based electronics.

Jun 10, 2010, 11:34 AM
I think this is more of an issue for satellites than our ground-based electronics.

And we had plenty of satellites during that past peak. PLUS, I would even hazard a guess that satellites are perhaps better shielded from cosmic effects than they were 10 years ago precisely because of those 1998-2002ish zappings.

I have no firsthand info on this, but if I were designing a satellite I sure as heck would take into account those huge pulses of solar energy in the recent past when designing my new satellite. I would attempt to make it as isolated as I could from all but the most intense spikes.

They know this stuff happens occasionally and they try to mitigate the effects.

Jun 10, 2010, 11:42 AM
I think this is more of an issue for satellites than our ground-based electronics.

If a big enough solar flare is aimed at the Earth, all those miles and miles of high-voltage power lines that connect cities to power stations act as power antennas, funnelling excess power downstream until the sub-station circuit breakers cut in, throwing the city into darkness.

A decade or three ago it happened to the power lines that crossing the wilderness of Quebec, from James Bay to the American North East.

There is little permanent damage, but it does turn off a lot of ground-based electronics. ;)

Jun 10, 2010, 05:35 PM
I blame Canada.

Jun 10, 2010, 06:54 PM
I blame Canada.

Most people do..... :D

Jun 10, 2010, 11:20 PM
The whole 'build a shield' type words in this thread really don't understand the threat to spacecraft.

It's all a statistics game - you could have a wall of lead a foot thick - and some particularly energetic particles could still get through. The better your sheild, the fewer that get through.


All it really takes is one particle to hit one microelectronic component and boom - you've got a bit flip, you've got a spacecraft in safe mode, and it stops doing its job.

It's basically impossible to make better shields ( as that invokes mass, and mass is the killer for getting stuff into space ) - and the electronics are radiation hardened, but only to a certain point.

The more complex a spacecraft, the more electronics it has, and thus to a certain extent, the more vulnerable it might be to bad space weather.

Furthermore, satellite technology is more a part of out lives now than previously - in ways you probably wouldn't even imagine.

What we do have now, however, is more and more spacecraft watching solar weather ( ACE, SOHO, STEREO A and B, SDO, Yohkoh, TRACE, Hinode ) and that means we can see the worst of it, literally, coming at us and thus monitor the spacecraft that have become a part of our lives and be more ready to recover them if possible.

Net result? We'll know more about this solar maximum than any previous one, we will be better prepared to deal with it, but our reliance on technology vulnerable to it is increasing rapidly.

Net difference to our daily lives? Almsot certainly zero :)

Jun 10, 2010, 11:28 PM
People....take things too seriously.