Technology We aren't ready for a solar storm smackdown

20:41  14 june  2018
20:41  14 june  2018 Source:   cnet.com

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Of all the potential disasters you could be worried about, solar storms aren ’ t likely to rank high on the list. Perhaps space weather deserves a little more of your attention. Far from being the stuff of old science fiction stories, solar storms are very real and very dangerous.

1859, on the eve of a below-average1 solar cycle, the sun unleashed one of the most powerful storms in centuries. The underlying flare was so unusual, researchers still aren ' t sure how to categorize it.

a satellite in space: Solar Storm illustration© Provided by CNET Solar Storm illustration One hundred fifty-nine years ago, our sun belched out a sea of charged particles aimed at Earth. It sped toward us at millions of miles per hour, walloping the planet hard enough to addle the world's telegraph systems and bring the northern lights as far south as Jamaica.

Damage from the solar storm, called the Carrington Event, was pretty limited — chiefly because the world didn't have a lot of very long wires that are susceptible to disruption. But that was then, and a massive solar storm will come our way again.

That's because the sun is constantly convulsing with titanic forces, sending megatons of feisty charged particles across the 93 million miles to Earth. Although our planet is shielded by a vast, invisible magnetic field, those charged particles can punch through. When they do, they can cause widespread disruption in today's continent-spanning electrical system. But not just the world's electrical grid. A massive wave of charged particle emissions can also cripple orbiting communications satellites and force planes to detour around radiation-bathed polar regions.

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Are We Ready for a Solar Katrina? Solar Storms Cause Blackouts, Impair Communications. In 1859, a solar storm , also known as the Carrington event (after the astronomer Richard Carrington, who first recognized the cause) fried the telegraph system.

One of the most powerful solar storms in history, known as the Carrington Event, occurred in 1859 and succeeded in disabling the global telegraph system. Whilst the Carrington Event was indeed impressive, humanity has yet to be struck by a truly massive solar storm .

"An event of that scale could be catastrophic if it happened tomorrow," says Francis O'Sullivan, director of research for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Energy Initiative. "It's not just the lights going off now. It's bank accounts disappearing.

"It's utterly central to everything, including national defense."

That's partly why both NASA and the European Space Agency have launched a handful of spacecraft to observe the sun's solar storms: expulsions of electrically charged particles called coronal mass ejections. Imagine an arc of material somewhat like a splash of water thrown from a bucket — only a CME can weigh a billion tons, easily dwarfs the Earth in size, and hurtles at speeds that can exceed a million miles an hour

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1859, on the eve of a below-average solar cycle, the sun unleashed one of the most powerful storms in centuries. The underlying flare was so unusual, researchers still aren ' t sure how to categorize it.

Still, the risk of a solar storm isn’ t just headline fodder. Geomagnetic storms are a real phenomenon, and they can cause some strange results. So while one isn’ t in the cards just yet, it’s worth knowing what they are, so you can be ready for them when they do arrive.

At its most active, the sun can belch out two or three CMEs a day.

That's worrisome, to say the least. But there's good news, too. Greater understanding of space weather along with improvements to the electrical grid should help us withstand these solar onslaughts.

Bumpy ride

We have much better views of solar activity in recent years, thanks to data from NASA's twin Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (Stereo) spacecraft and other high-tech orbiting detectors. But there's still a lot of guesswork.

The Stereo spacecraft spot CMEs almost immediately but they can't figure out the magnetic field's orientation. This is an essential piece of information. If the giant cloud's magnetic field is aligned with the Earth's, the particle cloud "will bounce off the Earth's shield like a bumper car with little impact," says space plasma physicist Tamitha Skov.

But if the two magnetic fields point in opposite directions, the CME strips away the Earth's protection. "Space gets a lot closer to home," says Jesse Woodroffe, who studies space weather and its link to national security at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

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To prepare for power outages following a massive solar storm , the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) advises building a disaster supply kit with enough food, water and medication to last at least 72 hours.

Our backup systems aren ' t in place yet, either. The Department of Homeland Security is funding the development of an emergency replacement transformer, but it won't be field- ready for several years. A 1989 solar storm brought down Quebec's power grid, leaving millions in the dark for nine hours.

Information about the field orientation only comes from the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE), parked about 860,000 miles away from Earth.

"We have 30 minutes' notice whether it points north or south" — in other words, whether it's harmless or trouble, Woodroffe says.

That was then

On the morning of Sept. 1, 1859, British researcher Richard Carrington was making his usual observations of sunspots, peering at an 11-inch image of the sun optically projected onto a plate of glass. "Two patches of intensely bright and white light broke out," he wrote in a paper published the next year.

It was a solar flare, the burst of light that often accompanies a CME.

The massive solar storm reached Earth hours later. Tens of thousands of miles of telegraph lines were knocked out of commission for at least eight hours as electrical currents generated by the solar storm interfered with signals. Some operators managed to send telegrams by disconnecting the telegraph's battery and using storm-induced currents instead.

Frederick Royce, working in Washington, DC, found out the hard way what can happen when such currents flow through telegraph equipment.

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Posted on November 4, 2012 by Ian Mannix. This is a pretty interesting item, in today’s New York Times, which might make a few people start to wonder about solar storms .

You can kill two birds with one stone and be ready for solar storms by preparing for an EMP, thus shielding sensitive equipment and the like and protecting it all from both events.

Coronal mass ejections can travel at more than 1 million mph.

"I received a very severe electric shock, which stunned me for an instant," The New York Times quoted him saying. "An old man who was sitting facing me, and but a few feet distant, said that he saw a spark of fire jump from my forehead" to the telegraph receiver.

There have been more solar troubles since then.

The 1921 "railway storm" caused fires at telegraph offices in New York City railway stations, Woodroffe says. A solar storm in 1989 knocked out power in Canada's Quebec province, and another in 2003 left millions of people in the dark for 12 hours in eight US states and Ontario.

Breakdown

A Carrington-class solar storm would be dramatically worse.

The basic problem stems from electrical currents that solar storms generate in the Earth's ionosphere. Those, in turn, induce currents in the power grid that can lead to two unfortunate outcomes. One is voltage collapse — a type of power blackout that can affect entire electric grids. The other is transformer failure.

Transformers change one voltage to another — increasing it for long-distance power transmission and decreasing it for household use. Solar storms could destroy power grid transformers, which can be as big as a house, cost more than $10 million and take 12 to 18 months to replace. It's one reason a science and engineering firm called Metatech warned in 2008 that a massive solar storm could cost the US economy between $1 trillion and $2 trillion and take four to 10 years to recover from.

NASA’s Opportunity rover is fighting for its life in a Martian dust storm

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Joshua Krause Ready Nutrition. When you’re preparing for a disaster, you have to weigh two very important factors. Such an event almost happened in 2012, when a solar storm that was comparable to the famous Carrington Event whipped past Earth.

1859, on the eve of a below-average1 solar cycle, the sun unleashed one of the most powerful storms in centuries. The underlying flare was so unusual, researchers still aren ' t sure how to categorize it.

That projection is too dire, though, say transformer experts at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) as well as Scott Backhaus, an expert in grid resiliency at LANL.

"Of the potential impacts, the one everybody is concerned about is a large power transformer overheating," says Backhaus. "What would probably happen before that would be voltage collapse."

While not as devastating, voltage collapse can still cause regional problems. And the more widespread the blackouts, the harder a recovery becomes because broader outages require power plants to initiate a "black start": using their own power sources, like diesel generators, for the electricity needed to restart the whole plant.

Solar storms cause other problems, too. Satellites beam navigation radio signals to everything from your phone and your car's sat-nav system to oil rigs and airplanes. Massive bursts of charged particles can hobble those services, as well as phone calls and internet data transfers.

Space weather also can expose aircraft to high levels of radiation. The Earth's magnetic field ordinarily provides protection except near the north and south magnetic poles, but CMEs push that radiation down toward the equator. That means transcontinental flights that usually travel over a pole must detour to less direct routes.

Facing the inevitable

We need to prepare.

Carrington-class events sweep the Earth about every 80 to 150 years, according to LANL's Woodroffe. "In July 2012, an incredibly large CME just missed us," he says.

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According to US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco, the potential for a truly dangerous solar flare exists, and we need to be ready We 're getting better at forecasting upcoming solar storms , and power grids SmackDown Live is the AJ Styles show, now and forever.

If federal officials are preparing for a massive solar storm , then we have enough reason to arm ourselves with the knowledge of what we might face. If you found this article useful, please Vote for Ready Nutrition as a top prepper web site. share this article with others. related reading.

We're adapting our electrical grid in North America — helped politically by the fact that those fixes also help ward off attacks involving high-altitude nuclear weapon explosions. A 2016 rule, for example, requires utilities to test transformers for vulnerabilities to big disturbances in the Earth's magnetic field and replace problematic hardware within four years.

Adopting new power sources like wind and solar also helps. As we rely less on massive central power plants and more on local power sources, the grid will become more resilient, MIT's O'Sullivan predicts.

The stakes couldn't be higher.

"If you think what would happen if the stock exchange was taken offline for a week or month or if communications were down for a week or a month, you very quickly get to a point where this might be one of the most important threats the nation faces, bar none," O'Sullivan says.

"It's not one we can negotiate a settlement around."

This story appears in the summer 2018 edition of CNET Magazine. Click here for more magazine stories.

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