As the Sun Awakens, NASA Keeps a Wary Eye on Space Weather

Monday, June 7, 2010

Like a scene out of the movie 2012, the earth and space are about to come into contact in a way that’s new to humanity. To make preparations, authorities in Washington DC are holding a meeting: The Space Weather Enterprise Forum at the National Press Club on June 8th.

Richard Fisher, head of NASA’s Heliophysics Division, explains:

“The sun is waking up from a deep slumber, and in the next few years we expect to see much higher levels of solar activity. At the same time, our technological society has developed an unprecedented sensitivity to solar storms. The intersection of these two issues is what we’re getting together to discuss.”

The National Academy of Sciences framed the problem two years ago in a landmark report entitled “Severe Space Weather Events—Societal and Economic Impacts.” It noted how people in the 21st century rely on high-tech systems for the basics of daily life. Smart power grids, GPS navigation, air travel, financial services and emergency radio communications can all be knocked out by intense solar activity. A century-class solar storm, the Academy warned, could cause twenty times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina.

Damage can be mitigated if managers know a storm is coming. Putting satellites in ‘safe mode’ and disconnecting transformers can protect these assets from damaging electrical surges. Preventative action, however, requires accurate forecasting—a job that has been assigned to NOAA.

“Space weather forecasting is still in its infancy, but we’re making rapid progress,” says Thomas Bogdan, director of NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado.

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4 Responses to As the Sun Awakens, NASA Keeps a Wary Eye on Space Weather

  1. feminazi says:

    Our entire modern way of life is dependent on these technologies. Not only the fancy technologies like GPS tracking and radar but, basic electricity systems used in homes, hospitals and food processing. Maybe for once, we’re ahead of the events and we can prepare and plan.

  2. TOM339 says:

    Everyday, we put our faith and trust in technology and never think twice about it.

    From the meds we take, banking, the cars we drive, subways and flying on airplanes. Everything is driven, managed and controlled by technology.

    If this electronic network is disrupted, we’re in for a rude awakening. In fact, I think our priorities will become clear very quickly. No one will much care about sports or Sarah Palin.

  3. Walk on Socks says:

    Any disruption to the power grid would be a total and complete disaster for the American financial system not to mention healthcare which relies on power to run complicated machines that deliver drugs to the patients.

    I hope the USA and the rest of the world is able to focus on a viable plan. The sun is big and powerful and we can’t let solar activity return us to the ice age.

  4. R L Pete Housman says:

    In a world that is increasingly “connected” and vital services are monitored and deliveried via internet and electronic systems, this seems a long overdue priority…. An earth in the dark because of solar storms is a sobering idea.

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