How to prepare for the next big solar storm?

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One of the biggest solar storm ever observed for centuries struck the Earth in September 1859, the eve of a solar cycle intensity below average [1].Destruction associated with solar is so unusual that researchers are still unsure as to classify it. The explosion sprayed the earth with a deluge of protons unpublished for half a millennium, accompanied by electric currents that burned the telegraph and the sky invaded Cuba and Hawaii Northern Lights.

In June this year, officials gathered at the National Press Club in Washington DC asked themselves the question: What will happen if it were to happen again?

” A magnetic storm of this magnitude could knock us , “says Lika Guhathakurta, solar physicist at NASA. Modern society relies on sophisticated systems such as smart grids, GPS, and satellite communications, which are vulnerable to solar storms . ” Lika was present at the fifth annual forum of the space dedicated to the climate, the Space Weather Enterprise Forum ( SWEF ) with a hundred colleagues. The purpose of SWEF is to highlight the space weather phenomena and their consequences for man, to challenge policies and responsible for disaster prevention. The forum brought together elected U.S. Congress, the Federal Emergency Management Agency ( FEMA ), operators electricians, UN representatives, of NASA , the NOAA and many personalities from all walks.

During the year 2011, forecasters believe the sun will begin a cycle shorter than average cycles. In 1859 “Carrington event” (named after the astronomer Richard Carrington who described the destruction solar) shows that weak cycles may be accompanied by strong magnetic storms.

In 1859, all that we might have feared the worst was a decommissioned Telegraph for one or two days while the tropical islands observers were able to admire the incredible phenomena in the sky.

The consequences of a huge solar storm on modern society

But in modern times it would be fine otherwise. The cascading failures of power lines and transformers intercontinental deprive Earth of electricity for weeks or months before engineers can repair the damage. Air navigation and boat would be deprived of GPS, the banking and financial networks would stop working, with all imaginable consequences for trade in short, a nightmare scenario in the era of all computing. According to a 2008 report by the National Academy of Sciences , an outstanding solar event as it is identified in every hundred years could have an economic impact equal to the hurricane “Katrina” Power 20! 
As such, the astronomer Mike Hapgood , researcher at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, England warns world leaders inan article in the journal Nature in April 2012. He said the solar storms of an intensity equivalent to those that have already occurred in the past 200 years could deprive entire regions without electricity for several months. The astronomer cites a 2009 U.S. study estimated that a giant black-out could cost 2 trillion dollars just in the United States, because of repairs that would require 4 to 10 years of work, not to mention lack to win ….

Anticipate and track solar storms

As policy makers gathered to recognize the risks, not far from there, the NASA researchers are actively trying to contain them: “We are now able to follow the trajectory of solar storms and their progression to the Earth 3D , ” says Michael Hesse, speaking at the forum and director of GSFC Space Weather Lab ” This is the beginning of an operational system disaster warning climate from space for the protection of power systems and high-tech infrastructure in case of intense solar activity . “

The model is constructed from data collected by a fleet of NASA satellites orbiting the sun. Laboratory analysts are fueling a database stored in super computers that process data. A few hours after a major eruption, computers produce a 3D film showing the path of the storm, what planets and satellites will be affected and when. This type of “interplanetary forecast” is unprecedented in the short history of climate space.

” We live in an era of climate privileged space , “notes Antti Pulkkinen, climate researcher at the Laboratory of Space Weather Space Lab. ” The recent development of scientific models based on physics allows us to anticipate such cataclysms . “

Some of our computer models are so sharp they can anticipate the soil penetration of terrestrial electric currents generated by a solar flare. The stakes are high for electrical transformers and the experimental project ” Solar Shield “led by Dr. Pulkkinen’s mission is to identify the most threatened by processors each solar flare. ” Just a few hours off during a particular transformer at high risk to prevent outages that can last several weeks and plunge into the dark an entire continent, “said Dr. Pulkkinen.

Another speaker at SWEF, Dr. John Allen of the Mission Directorate of NASA’s space operations, has highlighted the risks taken by astronauts from the weather in space. ” If no one is immune to these risks, the astronauts are on the frontline and are exposed to radiation levels four times higher than nuclear workers on Earth, “he said. ” This is a very high risk business. “

NASA set dosages carefully accumulated by each astronaut during his career. Each takeoff, each spacewalk, each solar destruction are recorded. When an astronaut reaches levels close to the limit … He or she may be prohibited from leaving the space station! The accuracy of the warnings of space storms may control such exposures, for example by reprogramming spacewalks to Risk of solar flare.

Dr. Allen also voted for a new type of weather report: ” The messages of type ‘RAS’. addition to information on the periods for which it should refrain from going out, we would know which ones are safe. These new perspectives for climate from space: provide not only high-risk periods of eruption of a black spot but also periods without risk. “

Notes:-The solar cycle of 1859 (Solar Cycle 10) was a low cycle, typical of solar cycles of the 19th century. These cycles were significantly lower than average solar cycles of the space age, which were intense cycles. Solar Cycle 24, that we are currently presents a number of black spots on the decline, similar to that of cycle 10.


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