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Posts Tagged ‘solar flare

“The grid is awesomely complex. It is the largest machine in the world.”*…

 

solar flare

Solar Flare (upper left), May 28, 2020

 

The Sun emitted its largest solar flare since 2017 on Friday, indicating that our star may be awakening from a quiet period that has lasted several years. Though the flare erupted on the opposite side of the Sun from Earth, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory was able to detect its glow above the solar surface, which is visible in the upper left corner of the above image…

Solar flares, sudden bursts of light blasted out by the Sun, are sometimes accompanied by arcing ejections of hot plasma from the star. These flashes normally show up in the same area as sunspots, which are dark patches of the solar surface that are slightly cooler than other parts of the Sun.

Our star experiences solar cycles that last about 11 years and are timed by the number of sunspots visible on the surface: peak activity correlates to the largest numbers of sunspots in a cycle, while a relatively spotless Sun is considered to be in hibernation. The last cycle started in 2008, and produced a major solar storm in 2012.

These storms also cause extremely bright and vivid auroras, popularly called the Northern and Southern Lights, as the glut of charged particles from a more energetic Sun illuminates the skies. However, past incidents show that extremely powerful flares and ejections—which blast out powerful surges of X-ray and UV radiation—can also scramble satellite systems and even cause energy failures on Earth, such as a blackout in March 1989 that left millions of people in Québec without power…  (source and more info)

Indeed, after the 1989 event, earth had a near miss when the effects of a much more powerful storm barely passed us by…

Back in 2012, the Sun erupted with a powerful solar storm that just missed the Earth but was big enough to “knock modern civilization back to the 18th century,” NASA said.

The extreme space weather that tore through Earth’s orbit on July 23, 2012, was the most powerful in 150 years, [see here for info on that earlier storm] according to a statement posted on the US space agency website Wednesday.

However, few Earthlings had any idea what was going on.

“If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire,” said Daniel Baker, professor of atmospheric and space physics at the University of Colorado…. (source and more info)

The damage, should another huge solar storm hit, could be massive– but wouldn’t be evenly distributed…

solar effect

This map shows 100-year storm-induced voltages on the national electric power grid

A new study about solar-induced power outages in the U.S. electric grid finds that a few key regions—a portion of the Midwest and Eastern Seaboard—appear to be more vulnerable than others…

Solar flares and other solar-mass ejections that travel through space can slam into Earth’s atmosphere and generate powerful electric and magnetic fields. These magnetic storms can occasionally be intense enough to interfere with the operation of high-voltage electricity lines.

Depending on the geology of a given region, the currents a geomagnetic storm induces in the power lines can destabilize the power grid’s operation and cause damage to (or even destroy) transformers….

Utilities in those [most vulnerable] regions need to know that power disturbances and outages—and possibly blown transformers—are more likely in the case of a big solar storm hitting Earth.

In a worst-case scenario… portions of the electric grid without enough backup transformers and other equipment could find themselves unable to operate until they can swap in backup systems. Of course, if there are not enough transformers and other devices, many in the hardest-hit regions could be without power for days or weeks until equipment could be delivered or built from scratch…

The worst-case scenario, the one that keeps grid experts up at night, happened last in 1859. It originated in a solar flare that blasted off the solar surface on 1 September 1859 and was observed by the English amateur astronomers Richard Carrington and Richard Hodgson.

Fortunately, when the “Carrington Event” hit Earth, the world had precious little electric infrastructure to disturb. It was mostly telegraph wires along railway lines that felt any high-voltage surges.

“There’s some expectation that if we were to have a repeat of the 1859 storm, it could have some substantial effects on the electric power grid and other technology that modern society depends upon,” [USGS research geophysicist Jeffrey] Love said. And because so many of today’s electrical systems are built around computer chips that are not robust to high-voltage surges, the fear is that a modern-day Carrington event could also blow out some portion of our computerized world…  (source and more info)

What can we do about it?  We can urge utilities (and their regulators) to expand and extend the emergency transformer stockpile (Grid Assurance) and to shore up the grid’s resilience to electromagnetic pulses.

As though we need one more thing about which to be concerned…

* Gretchen Bakke, The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future

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As we have a sunny day, we might spare a thought for Joseph Ritter von Fraunhofer; he died on this date in 1826.  A  physicist and optical lens manufacturer, he made optical glass and achromatic telescope objective lenses, invented the spectroscope, and developed diffraction grating.  But he is perhaps best remembered for his discovery of the dark absorption lines in the spectrum of the sun (created by selective absorption of those wavelengths by the atoms of different elements)– now, appropriately, known as Fraunhofer lines.

220px-Joseph_v_Fraunhofer source

 

“Doubt thou the stars are fire”*…

 

solar-flare_resize_md

 

Solar storms are a relatively regular occurrence.  But in 1859, a massive solar storm occurred; solar flares created the one of the largest geomagnetic storms on record.  Telegraph service failed… but otherwise the event was largely a curiosity.

A new study calculates that our sun may produce another ‘superflare’ in the next 100 years… and suggests that the resulting damage to electronic systems on which we’ve come to depend could be devastating.

How much more disruptive would a superflare be? It’s hard to say because the damage would seem to be incalculable. A superflare even a hundred times more powerful than what we normally experience would almost certainly hit every unprotected electronic system on Earth in some fashion, disrupting or outright crippling powergrids around the world, disabling machinery and manufacturing, blowing out cell phones, satellites, and all the rest. Transportation systems depend on electronics, as do utility systems, communications systems, in short: everything could just stop working overnight, even though we probably wouldn’t feel a thing.

If the superflare was thousands of times more powerful than normal? For all we know, it could send humanity back to the Age of Sail practically overnight–at least until we can repair or replace the entire planet’s electronic infrastructure, a tall order when you have no power transmission to manufacture replacement electronic components and we’re all reduced to communicating using carrier pigeons and old fashioned letters…

The solar storm of 2012 was of similar magnitude to the 1859 flare, but it passed Earth’s orbit without striking the planet, missing by nine days.  For more on what we might expect of we’re not so lucky next time, see “Massive Superflare Eruption from Sun within 100 Years Possible, New Study Says.”

And for more background see: “Solar Flare: What If Biggest Known Sun Storm Hit Today?

* Shakespeare

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As we slip on our shades, we might spare a thought for Giovanni Battista Riccioli; he died on this date in 1671.  He is known, among other things, for his experiments with pendulums and with falling bodies, for his discussion of 126 arguments concerning the motion of the Earth, and for discovering the first double star.  But he is perhaps most remembered for introducing (in in Almagestum Novum in1651) the current scheme of lunar nomenclature: he named the more prominent features after famous astronomers, scientists and philosophers, while the large dark and smooth areas he called “seas” or “maria”.  The lunar seas were named after moods (Seas of Tranquillity, Serenity) or terrestrial phenomena (Sea of Rains, Ocean or Storms).

440px-Giovanni_Battista_Riccioli source

 

Written by LW

June 25, 2019 at 1:01 am

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