Beware of 'Space Weather'

Solar storms can be disastrous—but we can protect ourselves
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Jun 17, 2011 3:19 PM CDT
This image provided by NASA shows the Sun unleashing a medium-sized solar flare, a minor radiation storm and a spectacular coronal mass ejection on June 7, 2011.   (AP Photo/NASA)

(Newser) – It’s not just the weather on Earth we need to worry about—there are storms in space, too, and they can pose a serious threat if we’re not prepared. Recent years have been quiet around the sun, but it’s about to reach the height of its magnetic cycle, write scientists Madhulika Guhathakurta and Daniel Baker in the New York Times. That might mean powerful storms that can mess with power grids, oil drilling, and GPS signals, among other problems.

About once every century, we get a “super solar storm,” and “perhaps we’re overdue,” the scientists write. Such a storm “could cause the financial damage of 20 Hurricane Katrinas.” Fortunately, space weather is being monitored by spacecraft, and if we’re ready for such events, we can protect ourselves. President Obama and Britain’s prime minister recently announced a “global space weather warning system.” The trouble is, “most people have never heard of space weather,” and “what good are space weather alerts if people don’t understand them?” It’s up to scientists and the government to “raise awareness.” (Click to read one view that the sun is in for a quiet phase.)

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