NASA study explains hazards of severe space weather for Earths technology

January 6th, 2009 - 2:50 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Jan 6 (ANI): In a NASA-funded study, researchers at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington have detailed how extreme solar eruptions could severely affect for communications, power grids and other technology on Earth.

The study offers some of the first clear economic data that effectively calculates today’’s risk of extreme conditions in space driven by magnetic activity on the sun and disturbances in the near-Earth environment.

Instances of extreme space weather are rare and are categorized with other natural hazards that have a low frequency but high consequences.

“Obviously, the sun is Earth’’s life blood. To mitigate possible public safety issues, it is vital that we better understand extreme space weather events caused by the sun’’s activity,” said Richard Fisher, director of the Heliophysics division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

The sun periodically releases billions of tons of matter called coronal mass ejections other than emitting a continuous stream of plasma called the solar wind.

And these immense clouds of material, when directed toward Earth, can lead to large magnetic storms in the magnetosphere and upper atmosphere and the resulting space weather can affect the performance and reliability of space-borne and ground-based technological systems.

Space weather can produce solar storm electromagnetic fields that trigger extreme currents in wires, disrupting power lines, causing wide-spread blackouts and affecting communication cables that support the Internet.

Also, severe space weather produces solar energetic particles and the dislocation of the Earth’’s radiation belts, which can damage satellites used for commercial communications, global positioning and weather forecasting.

Ever since the telegraph was invented in the 19th century, space weather has been recognized as causing problems with new technology.

It is possible to diminish a catastrophic failure of commercial and government infrastructure in space and on the ground by raising public awareness, improving vulnerable infrastructure and developing advanced forecasting capabilities.

Society could become more vulnerable in the future if there are no preventive actions or plans leading to the trend of increased dependency on modern space-weather sensitive assets.

The study, which had national and international experts from industry, government and academia working on it, documents the possibility of a space weather event that has societal effects and causes damage similar to natural disasters on Earth.

“Whether it is terrestrial catastrophes or extreme space weather incidents, the results can be devastating to modern societies that depend in a myriad of ways on advanced technological systems,” said Daniel Baker, professor and director of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Baker chaired the panel that prepared the report. (ANI)

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