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Protecting us from solar storms (NASA)

In games on November 1, 2010 at 9:56 am

NASA believes that you can take steps to protect us from solar storms. This type of event, during which a barrage of high-energy particle hits our planet causing power outages and all kinds of electrical disturbances could be predicted with sufficient time to take action to minimize their effects. Alert comprising the SOHO spacecraft and twin NASA STEREO system would allow us to make a 3D model of the phenomenon and disconnect critical systems before they are affected.Is this approach viable?


Statistics show that every hundred years takes place a powerful enough solar storm to dye the skies of Earth with impressive auroras blood red. Unfortunately, this kind of phenomenon is not limited to producing frightening visual spectacles, but affects how compasses and satellites, produces power outages, interferes with telecommunications networks, and affects almost all the electronic equipment used daily by our civilization. Fortunately, most of the solar storms are not large enough to cause effects “to the Hollywood”, but some of them could get really in trouble.In 1859, the so-called “Carrington event“, a super solar storm that interrupted the Telegraph traffic and even burned down some of its offices e.g., took place. If a similar event took place in today’s world, the lost – economic and human lives – would be enormous.

Energy distribution networks are vulnerable. (Creative Commons/Warko)

A report issued by the National Academy of Sciences of the United States 2008 warns that if a solar storm “important” occurred today, experimentaríamos electricida widespread blackouts (d), and even corrupting many main transformer used in electrical power distribution networks. To avoid this, NASA is working on a project called “solar shield” (“Solar Shield”), intended to alert companies distributors of electricity on the possibility of an event of this type with sufficient time to carry out preventive disconnection of your systems. According to Antti Pulkkinen, a researcher at the Catholic University of America who work at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center “Solar Shield is a new, experimental, forecasting, system applied to electric distribution North America network.”  “We believe that it may be useful to disconnect time specific transformers of prediction which of them could be affected by a solar storm.”The cause of the malfunction of electrical networks during these events stems from an effect known as GICs (“Geomagnetically Induced Current”, or “current-induced geomagnéticamente”). When the cloud of solar particles generated during a storm hits the Earth’s magnetic field causes this begins to “shake”.These magnetic Vibration induced currents in all regions of the atmosphere, overloading circuits, switches and – in extreme cases – melting electric transformer coils.

The Sun, source of the problem. (NASA/GSFC/SOHO/ESA)

This has already happened in recent history: a geomagnetic storm much less serious than the Carrington event left without power for 9 hours at all Canadian Quebe province c on March 13, 1989. That day were damaged transformers in Quebec, New Jersey, and Great Britain contabilizandosé over 200 anomalies in several countries electrical distribution network. In October 2003, “Halloween”storms caused blackouts in several areas of southern Sweden and Africa.By terrible that seem to these cases, the fact is that none of these storms can be purchased with the “Carrington event”, and that in the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) and the u.s. Department of energy modern power distribution systems are more sensitive to the ICM.The NASA project could avoid these problems. Pulkkinen explains that “solar shield comes into action when a (Coronal Mass Ejection CME) coronal mass ejection is detected in the Sun.” “The images provided by SOHO and probes NASA STEREO twins show us the cloud of particles from three points of view, which allows us to make a 3D model of the CME and predict when will come.” These particles will take between 24-48 hours to arrive at Earth, valuable time that can be used to calculate the time and place that will hit our planet. With these data, the energy distribution companies can disconnect their transformers to protect them. 

The next peak of storms expected in 2013 (NASA)

Pulkkinen clarifies that “Solar Shield” is an experimental system for now and that has never been tested during a real geomagnetic storm.Multi-company distributors have installed monitors in key locations in their networks to help NASA team in their predictions.Given that in recent years solar activity has been small and only a few relatively mild storms have occurred over the past year, the system has not been tested thoroughly.”We would like to more energy-related companies unite to our research team,” adds Pulkkinen.More data can get, faster than we can test and improve Solar Shield.The next peak of solar storms that have approximately every 11 years – is expected sometime in 2013, which implementation of this project can be crucial.

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