As we approach the expected peak of the current sunspot cycle sometime this year, I'm seeing more stories about the potential impact of a large coronal mass ejection striking Earth's magnetosphere, knocking out satellites and inducing damaging currents in terrestrial power grids.
Brad Plumer presents a good overview with illustrations of the threat and potential impact in his Washington Post blog entry When space weather attacks!
Plumer writes: “The problem is far from theoretical. Last month, at a conference on space weather held by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Daniel N. Baker of the University of Colorado told the audience that the sun had unleashed another large coronal mass ejection in July 2012 that traveled at speeds comparable to the Carrington Event of 1859. It missed the Earth by a week.” Baker said. "Had that storm occurred a week earlier, it would have been a direct hit. And we'd probably be having a very different conversation about this today."
One of the impacts would have been the loss of a large number of very large high voltage transformers critical to distribution of power. These transformers are custom built and can take up to a year to build, raising the possibility that storm could have left major parts of the northeast without power for up to a year.
We've known about the potential problems from a huge solar storm for some time. I first wrote about it in my March 13, 2000 RF Current
when we were near the peak of the last solar activity cycle. The link to the article I referred to is no longer valid, but the article Storm warning: physicist predicts solar damage
is still available from Adelaide University.
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