Short-Circuiting Civilization: Predicting the Disruptive Potential of a Solar Storm Is More Art Than Science

Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 13:30 in Astronomy & Space

Much like a temperamental teenager, the sun has been acting up of late. As it approaches the peak of the 11-year solar activity cycle, predicted to occur next May, it has been displaying an increasing number of angry outbursts. These solar storms are technically called solar flares and are giant eruptions of radiation from the sun's atmosphere that cause significant brightening of the area where they occur. Solar flares are sometimes followed by coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which spew charged and magnetized particles into space.  Depending on the direction of their release, these particles sometimes reach Earth where they occasionally damage satellites and disrupt terrestrial power grids. In 1989 a solar storm knocked out electricity across Quebec for nine hours. In 2003 a solar storm crippled South Africa's power supply by damaging 15 large transformers, according to John Kappenman, an expert on how solar storms affect power grids. [More] ...

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