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How dangerous are sunspots?
Earth has recently been bombarded by sunspots making the Northern Lights more dazzling than usual. (http://news.yahoo.com/huge-sun-storm-super-charge-northern-lights-tonight-230401901.html;_ylt=AhfeJyMLsSSYfH4VTwLSDIIPLBIF;_ylu=X3oDMTNtZ3NvZTZiBG1pdAMEcGtnAzM4ZDA2N2ExLTRkOTgtM2M2Zi04NTdhLTg3ZjE5MmExZTcwZgRwb3MDOARzZWMDbG5fU3BhY2VBc3Ryb25vbXlfZ2FsBHZlcgMxYTUzZmFiMC1lODk0LTExZTAtOWY2ZC0xYjU4NTdkMGExOGM-;_ylv=3) scientists though have called this recent event a glancing blow, and claim that we are not out of the woods yet. So what dangers can sunspots pose to our society?
Oct 14, 2011
According to a study done by the National Academy of Sciences, sun spots or solar flares or solar storms, especially the most violent ones, can cause significant damage to the earth's satellites, communication systems, and power grids. This can lead to disruptions on scientific and economic activities, as well as pose safety problems to astronauts or even airplanes.
A huge solar storm that occurred in 1859, which is considered one of the worst storms to occur in the past two centuries, resulted to large scale fires when telegraph equipment were damaged and caused shorted wires. A hundred and fifty years later, we now have higher technology communications and more modern power systems that we heavily rely on. Notable solar storms occurred in 1989 that caused power outages in Canada and in 2003 that damaged satellites orbiting the earth and Mars.
Damage to these systems from the worst solar storms can result to major disruptions to our daily lives - phone and mobile communication service, transportation, water and food supply, etc. The sun is known to have an 11-year activity cycle and its current cycle is believed to ramp and peak on the 2012-2013 period.
Another study conducted by the Goddard Space Flight Center of NASA also show that solar storms damage the ozone layer to some extent- though most of the damage found during the study was in the north pole area.
It is worth noting though that space study has been growing significantly and that we are better equipped to predict the sun's activity and be better prepared.
Oct 21, 2011
On March 13, 1989, a geomagnetic storm brought down Hydro-Québec's power grid and blacked out the entire Canadian province.http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/sun_darkness.html Brownouts and other power irregularities were experienced across much of North America.
Today's "smart power grids" are even more vulnerable because they are interconnected by high voltage lines spanning thousands of miles.
In good times, this arrangement allows utilities to guide power wherever it might be needed.
During geomagnetic storms, however, it spreads the danger of a blackout far and wide.
NASA is developing a Solar Shield to protect the U.S. power grid from this danger.
And the danger is getting higher and higher each passing day with the sun pulling out of a low in the sunspot cycle.
This cycle runs about every 11 years with an especially calm period ending with the start of 2011.
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