Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What's Wrong with the Sun

Of course, there is nothing wrong with the sun.  It is merely doing what it has always done.  What is wrong is that in the past century and particularly in the past decade, we chose to stick our bare behinds out in the way of the occasional blow torch and everyone knows it will hurt if we catch it.

We actually need to snug things up under the control of perhaps NORAD in particular and similar agencies else where.  Our sensors will provide warning that a major EMP blast is on the way and even what time it will hit.  Like a tsunami, very little time is available to do the right thing, but if one knows what the right thing is and appropriate drills have been undertaken, it is possible to ride it all out.

Power companies in particular must go into emergency shutdown.  Public alarms need to be sounded, but the first alarm for most would be the power going down.

Plenty of damage is still going to occur, but this way it is constrained to a lot of fried electronics.  The public could even be in a position to largely ride it out.

The take home now is that simple cheap methods can hugely control prospective damage.  We used them to survive bombs and other threats, and implementing them is an exercise in education and community planning. 

Ideally the grid can be brought on line almost immediately and then properly brough up again building by building. 

What's wrong with the sun?

The sun has been worrying scientists for quite a while.

Back in the late 1990s its eruptions became increasingly violent until it spewed mammoth plasma streamers at an intensity and rate never observed at any other time in history. Earth's satellites were at risk as well as electrical power grids and all electrical communications.

Then the sun went quiet—abnormally quiet. Normal cycles of increased activity came and went with little or no sunspot activity. Around the globe sun watchers began to ask each other—a bit uneasily—what was wrong with the sun?

Their question is about to be answered. The giant is about to awaken from its abnormal slumber and scientists around the world, NASA included, are very concerned.

The director of NASA's Heliophysics Division, Richard Fisher, sheds some light on the growing worry: "The sun is waking up from a deep slumber, and in the next few years we expect to see much higher levels of solar activity. At the same time, our technological society has developed an unprecedented sensitivity to solar storms. The intersection of these two issues is what we're getting together to discuss."

Fisher echoes the growing worry amongst electrical engineers, computer experts, space application experts—even the Pentagon.

The warning shot has been fired

The solar space probe, Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) recorded one of the largest solar eruptions in years on April 19, 2010. Experts breathed a collective sigh of relief as the solar storm missed our planet by a wide margin. Some expressed the opinion that we dodged a major bullet.

How long we can continue dodging that bullet is a matter of speculation. The law of averages, however, leads the experts in heliophysics (the study of the properties of the sun) to suspect our days are numbered. The odds of avoiding a planet crippling storm are piling up against Earthlings and our fragile, susceptible technology underlying our civilization. As the sun awakes our risk increases. 

Emergency measures to be discussed

At the Space Weather Enterprise Forum being held at the National Press Club on June 8th, some of the world's solar experts are gathering to decide how to protect our technology (and by extension, our civilization) from a rampaging, exploding sun.

Earth's necklace of orbiting satellites are particularly at risk. The suggestion has been made to place them in a 'safe-mode' that—theoretically at least—afford them some protection from the electrified plasma and energized particles of a full blown solar storm blasting Earth.

Forecasting the intensity, duration and direction of a storm is critical to defending against it.

Forecasting the sun's next move is the business of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado. Its director, Thomas Bogdan notes that, "Space weather forecasting is still in its infancy, but we're making rapid progress."

In that regard, an old NASA satellite, the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) launched in 1997, is Bogdan's choice for early warning. "ACE is our best early warning system," asserts Bogdan. "It allows us to notify utility and satellite operators when a storm is about to hit.”

Now into its 4th year, the annual meeting of the Space Weather Enterprise Forum  takes on a special new urgency. Many of the speakers carry with them an aura of increased intensity almost matching that of the star they are focused upon.

As one unnamed observer remarked, the underlying current of the participants this year is one of "frenetic calm." 

Back in 2008, the National Academy of Sciences issued their dire report: "Severe Space Weather Events—Societal and Economic Impacts." The report outlined, in excruciating detail, the potential demise of America's 21 st Century technological base—and the resulting havoc to the economy and society. It spelled out how people in the first world countries rely heavily upon technologies at risk from solar storms—a technology that powers financial systems, power grids, water plants, air travel, farming, transportation, GPS navigation of aircraft and sea going vessels...even the daily operation of government at all levels. 

A massive solar storm hitting Earth could kick the US back into the 19th Century and cause havoc for years.

Fisher worries aloud, "I believe we're on the threshold of a new era in which space weather can be as influential in our daily lives as ordinary terrestrial weather. We take this very seriously indeed."

Go to the Space Weather Enterprise Forum home page here for complete information.

1 comment:

F. said...

No need to worry about the sun.

The progressives in the Obama administration will come up with a way to control it if it becomes a real and present danger...

I mean why not? They say they know how to control the climate here on earth & all other problems as well...