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Are we heading for a space weather disaster?

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

The second guest speaker yesterday at the weather summit in Steamboat was Bill Murtagh from the Space Prediction Center in Boulder, CO.

His main focus was space weather and predicting solar storms and the impacts they will have when the Electromagnetic Radiation reaches earth. When solar storms erupt, the electromagnetic radiation can reach earth as quick as 18 hours and last for days.

When solar flares erupt they can reach earth within 18 minutes and last for minutes to 3 hours. Solar flares are a violent eruption in the sun atmosphere with an energy equivalent of 100 million hydrogen bombs. A violent explosion in the sun's atmosphere. So what is space weather? Space weather refers to the variable conditions on the sun and in the space environment that can influence the performance and reliability of space and ground-­based technological systems, as well as endanger life or health.

At the Earth's surface, the atmosphere and the geomagnetic field provide ample protection from most of the solar electromagnetic radiation and charged particles. The protective boundary of the Earth's magnetic field is highly reactive to the onslaught of energy and pressure originating from the sun. However, while the sun's harmful radiation and particles don't generally reach the surface insufficient quantities to have direct harmful effects, their secondary effects are often felt. The Earth's magnetosphere redistributes its particle populations, often sending a rush of energetic particles along magnetic field lines into the atmosphere over the polar caps and creating the swirling red, green, and white auroras.

Other particles pour into the Van Allen radiation belts and encircle the Earth in a ring of electric current. The Earth's magnetic field itself can distort to such an extent that compasses at the surface swing 10 degrees away from the magnetic pole. The ionosphere (80-1000km above the Earth's surface) changes in ways that affect radio transmissions, absorbing some radio frequencies, distorting others, and creating electric currents that affect systems on the ground.

Major commercial airlines have had to re-route away from the poles during radiation storms in order to avoid exposure and avoid communication concerns. During the January 2012 solar storm many airlines had problems with communications.

Delta Airlines (27-29 Jan, 2012) - "For 3 days in a row, they [Polar flights]were having difficulties with HF communications with ATC."

Bill believes if a solar storm erupts like the one in the late 1800's, there would be catastrophic damage to GPS satellites and power grids. The recovery time would take between 4-10 years. The space weather prediction center is in the process of working with the government to prepare our power grids, satellites, etc in case of such an eruption occurs.

A violent explosion in the sun's atmosphere with an energy equivalent of a hundred million hydrogen bombs.

 

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