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When Space Weather Attacks Earth 176

Posted by timothy
from the nature-black-and-cold-and-harsh dept.
Lasrick writes "Brad Plumer details the 1859 solar storm known as the Carrington Event. Pretty fascinating stuff: 'At the time, it was a dazzling display of nature. Yet if the same thing happened today, it would be an utter catastrophe...That's not a lurid sci-fi fantasy. It's a sober new assessment by Lloyd's of London, the world's oldest insurance market. The report notes that even a much smaller solar-induced geomagnetic storm in 1989 left 6 million people in Quebec without power for nine hours.'"
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When Space Weather Attacks Earth

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  • Infrequent (Score:4, Informative)

    by NonSequor (230139) on Saturday July 13, 2013 @12:52PM (#44270509) Journal

    The Carrington Event caused aurora borealis to be visible around the world. I'm not aware of anything else like that being reported in recorded human history. Even if it had happened before the development of writing, you would think it would be the sort of thing that would have a major impact on legends across all world cultures. So my best guess is that from the span of time from, let's say, 3000BC to 2013AD, this has happened exactly once.

    Wikipedia says that ice core studies show that events like this which produce high energy protons comparable to the Carrington Event occur with a frequency of roughly once every 500 years, however it briefly mentions that these other events aren't necessarily comparable in terms of geomagnetic impact.

  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday July 13, 2013 @01:13PM (#44270619) Homepage

    The last time someone got wound up about this on Slashdot [slashdot.org]. And, last time around, I linked the PJM power grid training document on geo-magnetic disturbances. [pjm.com] They know about the Carrington Event. They know all about the problem in 1989, which happened on their system and damaged some transformers.

    The problem shows up as DC current on long AC lines, because voltage at "ground" differs across points hundreds of miles apart. This can damage transformers. So they have DC current monitoring in place at some key points on their system. Corrective action is taken when "DC measurement of 10 amps or greater measured at Missouri Avenue in Atlantic City and/or Meadow Brook Station near Winchester Virginia". Some long-distance lines have to operate at reduced capacity. Some generating plants are told to reduce output. Others have to crank up to compensate.

    Medium sized disturbances of this type happen a few times a year (more at the high point of the sunspot cycle). Only one warning so far this year, on June 29th. April 11, 2010 was the most recent disturbance event that required that action be taken. The warning came in from NOAA's Space Weather Center, and people in power grid control centers (the US has seven) reconfigured the power grid to prepare for it.

  • by maxwell demon (590494) on Saturday July 13, 2013 @06:53PM (#44272391) Journal

    CMEs do not affect earth suddenly without warning. You get 3 to four days before the effect reaches earth.

    From Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] (emphasis by me):

    From August 28, 1859, until September 2, numerous sunspots and solar flares were observed on the sun. Just before noon on September 1, the British astronomer Richard Carrington observed the largest flare,[3] which caused a major coronal mass ejection (CME) to travel directly toward Earth, taking 17.6 hours. Such a journey normally takes three to four days.

    So much for three or four days of warning.

  • Re:OMG 9 hour... (Score:4, Informative)

    by ancientt (569920) <ancientt@yahoo.com> on Saturday July 13, 2013 @07:58PM (#44272707) Homepage Journal

    Even if the machine shop is getting electricity. This isn't detailed in TFA but is well documented elsewhere. Take this article [larouchepac.com] where they explain:

    The consequences of a transformer failure are catastrophic, as there is a lack of manufacturing capacity for extra high-voltage transformers in the U.S.A. and worldwide. According to a study by the Metatech Corporation, commissioned under Executive Order 13407 for assessment of vulnerability to geomagnetic storms, manufacturers presently have a backlog of nearly three years for all extra high-voltage transformers (230 kilovolts and above). Only one plant exists in the U.S.A. capable of manufacturing a transformer up to 345 kV. There is no manufacturing capability in the U.S.A. for 500 kV and 765 kV transformers, which represent the largest group of at-risk transformers in the U.S. power grid. The 500 and 765 kV transformers are the backbone of the grid that extends into regions that contain nearly 80 percent of the U.S. population, according to John Kappenman of Storm Analysis Consultants and Metatech Corp.

    A further example to make it more obvious that khallow doesn't actually understand what the problem is.

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