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Last Post 20 May 2015 11:46 AM by  Christina Cohen
solar storms
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20 May 2015 07:35 AM

    andrea s

    could a solar storm stong enough do damage on earth?

    Tags: solar storms


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    Posts:113
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    20 May 2015 11:46 AM

    Hi Andrea,

    Absolutely! When the coronal mass ejection from the Sun hits the magnetic field of the Earth, it can distort it significantly. When that happens, currents are created in the Earth which can affect the flow of electricity in power lines. Occasionally this effect is so strong that it can overwhelm and even melt the transformers which govern the power grids. This happened in a huge way in 1989 and caused a 9 hour power outage for all of Quebec. These transformers are very expensive and typically there aren't spares lying around, so replacing one isn't a simple task and can take more than a year.

    The largest storm we know of occurred in 1859 and is called the Carrington Event (named after one of the scientists that observed the huge solar flare and connected it to the effects on the Earth less than a day later). There are reports of telegraph sparking and setting paper on fire and aurora seen in locations almost down to the equator.

    In addition the x-rays from the large flares that typically accompany solar storms can cause radio blackouts, affecting many of our communications. The energetic particles that are also part of the storm can impact satellites causing problems ranging from scrambled data to frying the onboard computer. Astronauts that are on spacewalks can be killed by the radiation in the very large storms and can have significant health effects even if they are in the space station (but not in the protected areas) during these events.

    With our society's increasing dependence on satellite communications, large-scale power grids, and general electronics, the effect of a Carrington-like event today could be catastrophic. This is why there is a large emphasis on understanding enough about the development and start of these storms so that we can predict when they will occur and give enough warning for certain precautions to be taken.

    -Christina

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