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NASA Working On Solar Storm Shield 85

Posted by samzenpus
from the spf-25-trillion dept.
Zothecula writes "The solar storms that cause the stunning aurora borealis and aurora australis (or northern and southern polar lights) also have the potential to knock out telecommunications equipment and navigational systems and cause blackouts of electrical grids. With the frequency of the sun's flares following an 11-year cycle of solar activity and the next solar maximum expected around 2013, scientists are bracing for an overdue, once-in-100 year event that could cause widespread power blackouts and cripple electricity grids around the world. It sounds like an insurmountable problem but a new NASA project called 'Solar Shield' is working to develop a forecasting system that can mitigate the impacts of such events and keep the electrons flowing."
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NASA Working On Solar Storm Shield

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Didn't Mr Burns try something like this?

    • by MattGWU (86623)

      Basically, but that was to block out the sun in a bad way. This is to block out the sun in a good way. Mr. Burns needs the P.R. people NASA has.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by s0litaire (1205168)

        Didn't the UN Ban this last month... lol

        • by lennier1 (264730)

          No UN ban will hold up to all the lobbyist money involved in this.

          • Re:Solar Shield? (Score:5, Informative)

            by Fluffeh (1273756) on Wednesday October 27, 2010 @05:19PM (#34042828)
            The project is somewhat misleading in name. This isn't actually a shield of any type. It's more of a "Oh shit!" warning system. FTFA:

            When a massive burst of solar wind, known as a coronal mass ejection (CME), is detected rising from the sun’s surface and headed for Earth, images from SOHO and NASA's twin STEREO spacecraft would allow a 3D model of the CME to be created and predict when it will arrive. While the CME is making its way to Earth – a trip that usually takes 24 to 48 hours (although the Carrington Event CME took just 18 hours as an earlier CME had cleared the way) – the Solar Shield team would prepare to calculate ground currents.

            About 30 minutes before impact the CME would sweep past ACE, a spacecraft stationed 1.5 million km upstream from Earth. Sensors aboard ACE would make in situ measurements of the CME’s speed, density and magnetic field and transmit this data to the Solar Shield team at the Community Coordinated Modeling Center (CCMC) at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

            "We quickly feed the data into CCMC computers," says Pulkkinen. "Our models predict fields and currents in Earth's upper atmosphere and propagate these currents down to the ground." With less than 30 minutes to go, Solar Shield can issue an alert to utilities with detailed information about GICs.

            • by afidel (530433)
              30 minutes isn't going to be enough, no way they can shutdown the entire grid that fast. Heck to really protect things they have to do more than disconnect plants, they have to open breakers on every substation they want to save to disconnect them from the miles of lines leading in and out. And even if they saved the substations there would still be problems as there are tons of transformers attached to the grid that don't have a way to be isolated and estimates are that replacing those would take years as
              • by sjames (1099)

                If a switching plan exists in advance of the event, it's long enough to open the remotely controlled switches in a coordinated way. The smaller transformers will have much better odds of survival if they aren't powered during the event.

                The hope is that if the advance warning system exists, the switching plan will be developed.

            • A 'solar shield' could be created by simply using shielding materials on every power point that would be affected: transformers, the stations themselves, at the source, etc. Launch a giant project to shield the most vulnerable points in the power-grid to hopefully minimize the damage of a seemingly inevitable catastrophe. With all of the money thrown around in Washington D.C., it seems like a reasonable expense.

              People may oppose it for financial reasons, but if the expected solar storm does occur, people
              • by Fluffeh (1273756)
                Actually, I recall reading an article about this a while back, they said that the main weakness in the whole system are large transformers, which cost a few hundred thousand dollars each. Upgrading them to be resistant to a CME would cost about ten thousand per unit. However, if an unprotected unit is struck via a CME, it has to be replaced totally.

                The US Energy board/commission/whateveritwas said that this additional $10k on top of the few hundred thousand for the unit itself was going to cost too much
              • by Agripa (139780)

                A 'solar shield' could be created by simply using shielding materials on every power point that would be affected: transformers, the stations themselves, at the source, etc. Launch a giant project to shield the most vulnerable points in the power-grid to hopefully minimize the damage of a seemingly inevitable catastrophe.

                The vulnerable point that needs shielding is the transmission lines themselves and that is just not practical. When the CME hits the earth it pushes the magnetic field lines around which i

        • by Lanteran (1883836)
          I wonder what they would do if somebody did put up a solar shade? Nothing, most likely, because only a handful of countries have that kind of launch capabilities; and those that do probably won't waste a rocket to destroy or de orbit something helping the planet. On the other hand...
    • Clearly this is a job for Wile E. Coyote.
      • I think it's more like King Leonidas from 300. "OUR SOLAR SHIELDS WILL BLOT OUT THE SUN!!!" aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
      • by EdIII (1114411)

        Don't be so rude. Show a little respect Sir.

        It's Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius

    • by operagost (62405)
      Maybe, but mostly I'm concerned that I won't be able to use the aurora borealis as a cover when I have a kitchen mishap making Upstate NY Steamed Hams.
  • If they start now they ought to be done in time for the next solar storms.
  • Solar Shield? (Score:4, Informative)

    by sdguero (1112795) on Wednesday October 27, 2010 @04:44PM (#34042302)
    Seems like Solar Warning is a better name for it. It's not like they are putting something in space to shield us from anything.
    • by sempir (1916194)
      Wonders.........might not be a bad idea to buy some shares in "SunBlok"! Somebody is bound to think it will be a good idea. Er....
  • Just so we're clear, this isn't an actual, physical solar shield?

    Yawn. Ok, maybe it'll help, but just saying, if you're going to give something a name like "Solar Shield", don't expect people to be underwhelmed. Even IF there are satellites involved.

    Come to think of it, if there WAS a huge circular ultra-thin metallic doodad protecting us from certain doom, somebody would want to advertise on it. "Rays of death and inconvenience shooting at our planet from a star averted by Sprite, who remind you to alway

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by snspdaarf (1314399)
      Yeah, this seems to be more of a system to send an alert to the utility companies.

      "At the tone, it will be 15 minutes until all your power transmission shit explodes."

      I presume this will be to give them a chance to disconnect critical and expensive stuff? I mean, if you don't have protection gear on your system, is 18 - 48 hours enough to get anything of significance installed? Even if you have protective equipment, there is no way to be absolutely sure it will function this time.

      What am I missing
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dutch Gun (899105)

      It's a shield in the same way we're "shielded" from tsunamis and hurricanes by coordinated early-warning systems. That's essentially what they're describing, near as I can tell from the article.

      Oh, and BTW, since when is a physical shield the epitome of high-tech? Don't you watch Star Trek?

      • by anyGould (1295481)
        So, what we're buying is a recording of Jonathan Frakes yelling "Shields up! Brace for impact!" ?
  • Faraday cages (Score:2, Informative)

    If this topic has gotten you concerned about your personal stuff getting fried (if not by a CME, then by a nuclear EMP), you may want to look into constructing a Faraday cage. Here's a couple helpful links:
    http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100211130814AAGmUNZ [yahoo.com]
    http://forums.makezine.com/comments.php?DiscussionID=752 [makezine.com]

    • Well, I think if there is a nuclear EMP that fries my personal stuff, I probably have a much bigger problem on the way than would be helped by a Faraday cage. Are you serious, or just looking to stretch people's chain?
    • by zero_out (1705074)

      Unfortunately, they will be pretty much useless for anything expect storing backups. A Faraday Cage needs to be 100% enclosed, which means no power cables, no ethernet, no anything coming out or going into it. You can get around this by using some industrial strength filters, but those are expensive. The only reasonable use for a Faraday Cage to protect a spare laptop and backup storage media (external HDDs, tapes, thumb drives, etc.). That way, when an EMP from solar wind or as a precursor to nuclear w

  • I really want to see the aurora borealis in my lifetime - and there are apparently occasions when it is visible as far south as 51 degrees north - the Southern UK. Failing that, I'll go to Norway and rent a special igloo [google.co.uk].
    There was one of these solar storms in the 1850s, I think, and it set telegraph wires alight, causing fires. Imagine what it would do today.
    • by caluml (551744)
      Norway, Finland..... Anywhere "up and to the right" of me. :)

      I should take this opportunity to link to the solar storms I was talking about [wikipedia.org]
    • There was one of these solar storms in the 1850s, I think, and it set telegraph wires alight, causing fires. Imagine what it would do today.

      What hath God wrought?

    • Actually, where I live in Heidelberg, Germany (49.4167 Breitengrad), we had a serious aurora borealis a while back. And what was I doing? Scratching my hairy ass in in bed. The lights were so bright that folks called the police and thought that a chemical factory in nearby Ludwigshafen was on fire, or something.

      And I missed it all . . . shit!

  • Brilliant (Score:4, Informative)

    by simula (1032230) on Wednesday October 27, 2010 @04:53PM (#34042428) Homepage
    Here is a much better article from the horse's mouth:

    http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2010/26oct_solarshield/ [nasa.gov]

    I was feeling a little dismal about the situation until I read this report. Simply brilliant! Advanced warning so that we can unplug giant transformers and other vital and hard to replace portions of the grid before we're hit.
  • I am getting tired of people quoting imaginary threats against the electrical grid. Y2K could bring down the electrical grid worldwide. Hackers could bring down the electrical grid worldwide. Terrorists could bring down the electrical grid worldwide. Cyber-warfare could bring down the electrical grid nationwide. Now, solar flares.

    Your mama could bring down the electrical grid. When will the reality come through, that the electrical grid is actively maintained and it ain't that fragile? Major power failures

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Canada, March 13, 1989. Sometimes solar flares do cause blackouts.
    • by rale, the (659351)
      Yeah, widespread blackouts due to seemingly minor problems [wikipedia.org] never happen...
    • Thanks armchair electrical grid expert. I guess we should all trust you, and not the researchers who actually try to find out the limitations of our various systems. If you bothered to do some simple googling, you would find that the vast majority of the transformers used to distribute power on the grid have a certain ground current tolerance, and as such, if a ground current is produced above this tolerance the transformer breaks in a very expensive way. About a century ago, right when the telegraph was pr
    • Re:Electrical grids (Score:4, Informative)

      by zero_out (1705074) on Wednesday October 27, 2010 @05:39PM (#34043086)

      These are not imaginary threats. They are very real.

      There is the solar storm of 1859 [nasa.gov] which caused fires that burned down multiple telegraph offices.

      Remember the blackout of 2003 [nerc.com]? The link is to a report straight from NERC, the power grid regulatory commission responsible for the area involved in the blackout.

      Then let's not forget about stuxnet [cnet.com] worm.

      It is painfully obvious that these are not just crazy fears. As someone who has intimate knowledge of IT systems within a major U.S. power company conglomerate, and is very close to someone who designs/tests/commissions power plant generator hardware, I can assure you that these threats are very real.

      • What not real is that if/when it happens we will all go back to the stone age.

        There are breakers and there are redundancy. Sure some folks will have some power outages. Where i grew up that was every windy day. Big deal. We are not going to all die because we don't have electricity for a week. Or even a month or more. We are not all going to stare at empty computer screens and bemoan the end of days because i can't log into /.

        And a few fires and a 1859 telegraph system is hardly representative of a mo
      • by SirGarlon (845873)

        Remember the blackout of 2003 [nerc.com]?

        Yes. I believe I lost a half-day of work in that. Maybe a whole day. It was more than 5 years ago, and for most (not all) of the people affected it was an inconvenience, not a crisis. It was not a national disaster on the scale of Hurricane Katrina or the 9/11 attacks, which is what the fear mongers are trying to compare solar flares with.

        What is the biggest power failure that happened since then?

    • by Reapman (740286)

      I know it's cool and all to say how tired of hearing about this, but your view doesn't in any way have an impact on reality. We support communities who only have a sat link as their means of communication. Yearly we have communication problems due to sun transit, often for hours. There's nothing we can do but wait until it sorts itself out. Although I imagine (IANAS) we're talking about two slightly different things, I see no reason why a massive solar flare couldn't do a ton of more damage.

      By the way,

      • by Jonathan_S (25407)

        I'm assuming you live somewhere where it doesn't get below zero much eh? Try living without power for a week in sub zero temperatures.

        I'd hope that anyone living someplace that cold would have at least a backup heating system that didn't rely on electricity. (Or the ability to go someplace that did have such a system)

        • by Reapman (740286)

          You'd be mistaken, since a lot of people have the view of the poster I was refering to. Basically that our power system is just so damn awesome nothing seriously bad could ever happen.

          An example, where I live there's about a million people in the city, with outlying communities. It can get -40C in the winter. I live in 19 story building, so to have a wood burning stove doesn't really make a lot of sense in an apartment complex of that scale. Nor does a diseal generator, and if it did, where would a mill

    • by idontgno (624372)

      "I think that all good, right thinking people in this country are sick and tired of being told that all good, right thinking people in this country are fed up with being told that all good, right thinking people in this country are fed up with being sick and tired. I'm certainly not, and I'm sick and tired of being told that I am"

  • A *warning* system that will allow us to "send alerts." Well, woo hoo! Yeah, that'll show that nasty solar storm! Of course, the millions of miles of wire generating current will still fry anything connected to them and/or themselves, and our satellite system will be largely toast, but gosh *darn* it, we'll know 15 minutes ahead of time that it's going to happen.

    Of course, to do anything real like putting our grid underground as we upgrade it would cost real money so we can forget that one.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by rokstar (865523)
      Yes a warning system, so you know you can disconnect the important stuff from those millions of miles of wires. You know so the transformers don't all go pop at the same time?
      • It's not just the transformers I'd worry about. During the Carrington event, even the pylons created sparks. These days we have miles of metal power carriers, not to mention the wires between them acting as an impromptu generator.

        While I'd like to think that the folks who run the power systems are bright enough and well organized enough to cut the power and disconnect the dangerous bits, I doubt that the system is set up for this, or that some half-witted upper management fool wouldn't think the engineers w

  • Oh good, I can finally predict the next solar flare to send a note back in time from 2010 to 2001 and fix the future by stopping that world changing event from occurring!
    /end stargate reference
  • I like how the event is supposed to happen in 2012 but the summery probably doesn't want to mention that because of all the crazies it would attract.
  • EMP and a CME share one thing in common. They have the capacity to generate large currents in long conductors. Now, here is where it gets interesting: Not all "long conductors" are electrical lines. Railroad tracks and pipelines are two things where surprising things can happen and there are a lot more of them than there was in 1859. Those pipes carry everything from natural gas and petroleum to water. Some moderately long conductors are verticle including tall buildings and antenna towers. How do they teth

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