Space weather and the coming storm

Topper

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Reuters - UK Focus – 05-08-2012
By Chris Wickham
LONDON, Aug 5 (Reuters) - The delicate threads that hold modern life together are dramatically cut by an unexpected threat from outer space, with disastrous effects.
It's the stuff of science fiction usually associated with tales of rogue asteroids on a collision course with earth.
But over the next two years, as the sun reaches a peak in its 10-year activity cycle, scientists say there is a heightened risk that a whopping solar storm could knock out the power grids, satellites and communications on which we all rely.
"Governments are taking it very seriously," says Mike Hapgood, a space weather specialist at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (Dusseldorf: LAB.DU - news) in the UK. "These things may be very rare but when they happen, the consequences can be catastrophic."
Hapgood said that solar storms are increasingly being put on the national risk registers used for disaster planning, alongside other rare but devastating events like tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.
The statistics support this, he said. There is a roughly 12 percent chance of a major solar storm every decade, making them a one-in-a-hundred-year event. The last major one was over 150 years ago.
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The threat comes from the magnetically-charged plasma which the sun belches out in so-called coronal mass ejections. Like vast bubbles bursting off the sun's surface, they send millions of tonnes of gas racing through space that can engulf the earth with as little as one to three days warning.
The geomagnetic storms they stoke can induce strong currents in national power grids that literally melt the expensive transformers that form the cornerstones of the system.
The failure of a large part of India's fragile power grid this week was not related to geomagnetic storms but it does give a taste of the chaos that can ensue. Trapped miners, stranded trains and hospitals plunged into darkness, and this is a country where up to 40 percent of the population is not connected to the national grid..
Scientists say satellites can also be damaged or destroyed, as charged particles rip through them at hundreds of miles per second. It's an issue the satellite industry is not keen to talk openly about.
"A few will still publicly deny that there is a problem," said Hapgood, blaming the fear that being first to admit the problem could put a company at a commercial disadvantage.
"We have a way to go before we reach the point where the market accepts that this is a universal problem and gives the advantage to the guys who make a virtue of their ability to deal with space weather."
Radio communications with jetliners can also be knocked out as the solar storm messes with the ionosphere, the region of the earth's upper atmosphere through which long-range radio waves travel.
When there is a threat, airlines re-route planes to lower latitudes where they are less exposed. It's not quite routine but it isn't that rare either, and it adds to the fuel bill.
CHEER UP, IT MIGHT NEVER HAPPEN

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Lazarus

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Odd. When I got my Ham Radio Licence back in '74, I could have sworn the Sunspot Cycle was 11 years, not 10.

What is going on?
 

Topper

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Tivù said:
Odd. When I got my Ham Radio Licence back in '74, I could have sworn the Sunspot Cycle was 11 years, not 10.

What is going on?


Just like the pound it is deflation, or perhaps it is not a cycle it is more like like a pendulum
 

PaulR

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Well you're right that it's more like a pendulum as I think the two eleven year cycles (yep - I agree) are the positve and negative parts of a sinish wave IIRC.
 

Channel Hopper

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More foil underpants.
 

PaulR

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You may be nearer to the truth than you think CH. It is thought that the magnetic poles are in the process of exchanging places and when that happens Earth's protective magnetic field will go go screwy (technical term). If that should coincide with a solar maximum then it ciuld have extremely far reaching consequences.
 
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