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Space Science

Is a 'Katrina-Like' Space Storm Brewing? 356

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the or-maybe-thats-just-a-nice-cup-of-tea dept.
pilsner.urquell writes "A newly released NASA report warns that the world has forgotten the power of the sun, creating a technological society susceptible like never before to large infrastructure damage from solar storms. According to the report, the world has grown so dependent on modern technologies without respect of what the sun can and has done, that it's risking major communications, finance, transportation, government and even emergency services disruptions."
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Is a 'Katrina-Like' Space Storm Brewing?

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  • by i_ate_god (899684) on Monday January 12, 2009 @11:30AM (#26417329) Homepage

    Quebec [solarstorms.org] knows what they're talking about.

  • Re:Rather dramatic (Score:4, Informative)

    by TheKidWho (705796) on Monday January 12, 2009 @11:36AM (#26417421)
    The damage comes about from EM radiation overloading the power grid. The atmosphere isn't going to do much to stop that.
  • Re:Rather dramatic (Score:5, Informative)

    by Todd Knarr (15451) on Monday January 12, 2009 @11:39AM (#26417459) Homepage

    It wouldn't. The damage isn't from the particle cloud itself, it's from the ripples it sets up in the Earth's magnetosphere. This makes the magnetic field move relative to any conductors (like power lines and circuit traces) in it. That causes an electric current to be induced in the conductor. The atmosphere doesn't affect the magnetic field at all, so it won't provide any protection from the disturbance.

  • Re:Bread (Score:3, Informative)

    by shentino (1139071) on Monday January 12, 2009 @12:57PM (#26418819)

    Drinking your own urine doesn't actually help you all that much. Since the saline concentration of your pee matches pretty well what's already in your blood, all you're doing is retaining the same salt that your body is trying to get rid of.

    Recently, urine drinkage was disadvised by survival experts.

  • Re:Rather dramatic (Score:2, Informative)

    by OolimPhon (1120895) on Monday January 12, 2009 @01:00PM (#26418909)

    Confused: levies != levees

  • Re:Rather dramatic (Score:4, Informative)

    by jonfr (888673) on Monday January 12, 2009 @01:03PM (#26418967) Homepage

    Please check the NOAA solar storm warning levels. They explain how far back to the stone age we will go when a big (X level solar flare) is going to hit the Earth.

    http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/NOAAscales/index.html#GeomagneticStorms [noaa.gov]

    On the communications. It is not just satellite communications that will get disrupted. But also HF, UHF and other type of communication. Your GSM (2G or 3G really doesn't matter) might work, but then it might not work. It is any body's guess.

    People might be out of power for days or weeks in the worst case.

  • by Remus Shepherd (32833) <remus@panix.com> on Monday January 12, 2009 @01:08PM (#26419041) Homepage

    Are they safe from solar storms? Yes. If a solar storm strong enough to fry your CDs hits, your main concerns will be finding oxygen to breathe, keeping your DNA in one piece, and should you tell your doctor about the annoying way you glow in the dark.

    Note, however, that CDs naturally degrade over a period of from 3-20 years depending on the brand. So there's a good chance they won't survive until the next solar maximum anyway. But don't blame the sun.

  • Re:Rather dramatic (Score:4, Informative)

    by init100 (915886) on Monday January 12, 2009 @01:29PM (#26419345)

    Once a surge protector trips, its off until its manually reset.

    Not necessarily. Many simple surge protectors just use a couple of varistors and gas discharge tubes connected between the wires. These devices have a variable resistance that is extremely high during normal operation but decreases sharply above a certain threshold voltage, and thus provide a short-circuit path for excess current to take. After the voltage returns to the rated level, the resistance again becomes extremely high, cutting off the short-circuit.

    You are probably confusing surge protectors with circuit breakers. The latter are far too slow to protect sensitive electronics from damage from a voltage surge.

  • Re:Rather dramatic (Score:3, Informative)

    by khallow (566160) on Monday January 12, 2009 @01:34PM (#26419413)

    Modern power lines aren't protected at all. They are naked steel cables. Of course that also means that they are unlikely to be damaged unless actually heated red-hot, but the transformers ? Each and every one of them will get the equivalent of a lightning strike simultaneously.

    Transformers and substations have a considerable number of lightning and overvoltage countermeasures. Circuit breakers, arc chutes, etc. Maybe all transformers on the planet will go boom anyway, but there is significant protection available now to the electricity infrastructure against a once in a millenia solar storm.

  • Re:Rather dramatic (Score:3, Informative)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Monday January 12, 2009 @02:30PM (#26420391) Homepage

    since I'm pretty sure there are surge protectors now that are good enough to protect things from lightning strikes on the power lines.

    any company that claims this is bold face lying.

    NOTHING can protect your computer from a direct lightning strike.

    Hell your computer is dead if it's unplugged and sitting on the floor if a big strike nails the ground 200 feet away the EM pulse will pop most of the circuitry. I ahve seen laptops with burned traces on the motherboard that sat on a couch and the lightning struck the tree 50 feet away from the house.

    If anyone or any thing states it can protect you from lightning, It is a complete bold faced lie.

    A lightning strike is so high energy you cant begin to even understand it.

  • by agpc (1083779) on Monday January 12, 2009 @02:34PM (#26420449)
    I lived through Hurricane Ike and have several relatives who lived through Hurricane Katrina. We went 14 days without electricity and I came really close to losing my mind. Two things I learned: 1. the worst part of not having electricity is not the lack of air condition (although that did very much suck). The worst part was the darkness at night. Basic tasks become impossible in the dark. Once the sun sets you go to sleep because there isn't much else to do. Flashlights are great until you forget where you put the flashlight and its pitch black. Cell phones are very useful for illumination until they lose their charge. 2. Ice is the most valuable commodity when you don't have electricity. Stores will eventually restock bottled water, canned food, ect... Ice was the one product that I saw people literally fighting over and huge pallets of it would disappear within minutes of being placed. Another thing - if you are involved in a massive disruption you are pretty much on your own in that you cannot rely on police or ambulance to come to your aid - they are overwhelmed. One good aspect of the whole ordeal was that I met and *gasp* actually talked to many of my neighbors. It was interesting to see that human beings are actually quite good at banding together during times of extreme duress. Of course, once the power was restored we went back to our indifferent ways but at least I know my neighbors now! Finally, contrary to popular belief, there was no mass hysteria, no large group of roving bandits breaking into stores or looting homes. I have a feeling that potential criminals knew they would have been shot on site because people were on edge. This is Texas after all.
  • Re:Rather dramatic (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @01:47AM (#26428491)

    Hell your computer is dead if it's unplugged and sitting on the floor if a big strike nails the ground 200 feet away the EM pulse will pop most of the circuitry. I ahve seen laptops with burned traces on the motherboard that sat on a couch and the lightning struck the tree 50 feet away from the house.

    Emphasis mine. For those who have witnessed lightning strikes, still had their laptops work afterwards, and are wondering what Lumpy might be smoking - lightning strikes can vary considerably in strength. To use an analogy, a Volkswagen Beetle and a Bugatti Veyron are both cars.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lightning#Types_of_lightning [wikipedia.org]

    If anyone or any thing states it can protect you from lightning, It is a complete bold faced lie.

    Never suggest something is impossible to a scientist. It just encourages them. :)

    But while a deep underground bunker and/or sufficiently engineered faraday cage would probably do the job just fine, I have to admit that for my computers it'd be a lot cheaper to stick with the offsite backups and storm insurance. :)

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