Monday, April 30, 2012

Space Weather?

On FEMA's preparedness website, www.ready.gov/natural-disasters, you'll find information about "typical" disasters like Tornadoes and Hurricanes and even some rare events like Volcanoes. But there is also a category for "Space Weather". What is that?

Our Sun has been very quiet for the past few decades but it has a history of extreme outbursts of solar flares. The strongest solar storm on record is the Carrington Event of 1859 which electrified telegraph lines, shocking technicians and setting their telegraph papers on fire. Northern Lights were visible as far south as Cuba and Hawaii. Another significant space weather event took place in 1989 which caused a power blackout in Canada that left six million people without electricity for nine hours. This flare also melted some power transformers in New Jersey.

More recently there was a flare-up in 1989 but NASA reports this was nowhere near the same scale as the Carrington event.

We have been very lucky in our digital age that there's been no massive solar storm. Imagine TVs and computers bursting into flame from power surges. The damage will be massive.

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