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NASA Space Science

NASA Warns of Potential "Huge Space Storm" In 2013 464

Low Ranked Craig writes "Senior space agency scientists believe the Earth will be hit with unprecedented levels of magnetic energy from solar flares after the Sun wakes 'from a deep slumber' sometime around 2013. In a new warning, NASA said the super storm could hit like 'a bolt of lightning' and could cause catastrophic consequences for the world's health, emergency services, and national security — unless precautions are taken. Scientists believe damage could extend to everyday items such as home computers, iPods, and sat navs. 'We know it is coming but we don't know how bad it is going to be,' said Dr. Richard Fisher, the director of NASA's Heliophysics division. 'I believe we're on the threshold of a new era in which space weather can be as influential in our daily lives as ordinary terrestrial weather.' Fisher concludes. 'We take this very seriously indeed.'"
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NASA Warns of Potential "Huge Space Storm" In 2013

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  • Invest in FRDY! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by noidentity ( 188756 ) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @08:18AM (#32576460)
    I seriously wonder whether I should purchase a few crate-sized Farady cages [] in preparation, and ensure I have non-magnetic backups of everything.
  • Re:Invest in FRDY! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by capnchicken ( 664317 ) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @08:26AM (#32576518)

    Non-magnetic? Like what? Writable CD-R's are only good for about two years. (not snarky, just curious)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @08:27AM (#32576538)

    "home computers, iPods, and sat navs"
    Why not "Macs, iPods and Garmins"?

  • by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @08:30AM (#32576552)
    I'd hate to see what would happen if all our energy usage was electric instead of burning stuff.
  • by gorg1 ( 205080 ) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @08:32AM (#32576576)

    From one of the links we learn that "..powergrids will temporary switch off some transformers, to save them from the effects..".
    What about our computers? Anyone here able to confirm that powered off electronics would not be damaged by the blast?

  • Re:Invest in FRDY! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @08:34AM (#32576596)

    Unless you have a punchcard to jtag writer, documentation on your cd-rom drive, and of course backups of your bios, you're screwed anyways. Every electronic component you'd use to recover those backups probably has either an eeprom or flash part in it containing the device specific code. In the event of any sort of serious EM pulse that could damage hardware or wipe software you would either have lost or best case had minimally corrupted every device along the chain you'd use for recovery. This actually falls in under 'reasons to have blueprints for your hardware'... if the software were to disappear tomorrow, who would be able to reimplement it in order to help recover all that now-dead hardware?

  • by CdXiminez ( 807199 ) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @08:39AM (#32576632)

    Why should we expect a worse sun spot maximum than previous maxima?
    Nowhere in the two linked articles does it say anything about why it would be worse than 2006.
    They don't even talk about the unusually long sun spot miminum we've had.
    I was hoping for some science about how that might affect the coming maximum...

  • by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @08:40AM (#32576636) Homepage

    The National Risk Register, established in 2008 to identify different dangers to Britain, also has "comprehensive" plans on how to handle a complete outage of electricity supplies.

    Yes, secret plans. Don't worry, when we need to know, they'll be disseminated, presumably by a network of tin cans and bits of string, with a smoke signal backup system.

  • Re:EOTW? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by yotto ( 590067 ) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @08:57AM (#32576796) Homepage

    Actually a "Generation" is typically 20-25 years. However, today's electronics are a pretty big advance from those of the late 80s.

    I just had a thought, wouldn't it be odd if the only space ships that weathered the space storm were the Shuttles? :o

  • by cpaalman ( 696554 ) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @09:00AM (#32576822)
    It is reasonable to ignore as much as we can. That line of thinking worked out well in the Gulf.
  • by FTWinston ( 1332785 ) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @09:29AM (#32577200) Homepage
    The effect is proportional to length of wire. We're talking about a hypothetical major solar event, potentially comparable to the one in 1859 []. As the effect will be proportional to the length of the conductor in question, the effect on your ~1m PC will be ~1000 times less than the effect on a ~1km power cable.
  • Re:Scary (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bakkster ( 1529253 ) <Bakkster,man&gmail,com> on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @10:17AM (#32577816)

    Big transformers in the power grids will be the main victims. And all of us that rely on having a power grid, of course. As long as you keep a spare car battery to recharge any bionics that require that, and provided that the outage doesn't last too long, I'd expect something like a pacemaker to be just fine.

    The issue you refer is to ground loop currents in the electric grid. The storm creates a difference in the ground voltage between different transformers. This creates a massive current that blows out the transformer.

    The real issue is that the devices to prevent this (basically huge resistors) are expensive, rare, and take a long time to manufacture. And when we suddenly have half of the transformers in the US explode at once, the outage will not be brief. There is not a large stock of transformers sitting in warehouses as replacements. Transformers take even longer to produce than those resistors, and we would be waiting months before we could repair most of the grid. That's a huge issue.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @10:20AM (#32577876)

    Whatever, only reasonable thing to do about it is to cool down and ignore as much as we can.

    You mean, bury your head in the sand? []

    Not sure about that one.

  • Re:Invest in FRDY! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @10:36AM (#32578130) Homepage

    And even if you have all that stuff - what about the tools to make the tools? Having all the documentation/drawings/plans/specifications/whatever to rebuild the reader for the media you've stored away is pretty much meaningless unless you can actually use all that data to actually build the reader.... And that equipment isn't trivial either.
    And it goes like that right down the technological chain. As I told a misguided survivalist type friend of mine back during the run-up to Y2k: "Living off the grid is easy, living without FedEx is the real bitch".

  • by dominious ( 1077089 ) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @11:13AM (#32578686)
    Really? you mod this insightful?? Modders, read the replies.
  • by diewlasing ( 1126425 ) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @11:13AM (#32578692)

    With influenza pandemy, Maya's calendar doomsday, $|€ crisis, oil spills, earthquakes...

    Or NASa just saw the light and how public fear can me made into profit, using for example big pharma recipes...?

    Whatever, only reasonable thing to do about it is to cool down and ignore as much as we can.

    I don't get it. I mean I don't get why you were modded up. I myself might get modded down for saying this, but the quality of modding has gone down here on /.

    Are you suggesting NASA is trying to scare us for profit? Are you bloody serious? If you took the time to read the literature, solar storms happen with a roughly well determined periodicity. No one is suggesting this is a world-ender but electronics are at risk; to just ignore it as a NASA conspiracy is amazingly irresponsible and completely ignorant.

  • Re:Scary (Score:3, Interesting)

    by vlm ( 69642 ) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @11:16AM (#32578742)

    grocery distribution

    You're looking at it from a consumer perspective. The real problem is infrastructure.

    I can buy a remarkable quantity and variety of food at my local weekly farmers market direct from the local farmers... I would assume that could scale up quite a bit if necessary.

    I'm not belittling the other problems, just saying that is possible to buy food, in fact excellent locally grown food, beyond pizza rolls from a walmart supercenter. I/we can eat quite well indeed without making sam walton's heirs richer, or making the new york banks richer by swiping a VISA card.

    I would agree that coasties in the heart of big cities and desert dwellers in AZ would pretty much have to starve to death. But the quality of life is already so low in such areas, can you be surprised at the results if an EMP dropped the QOL even further? Not really.

    Most of the population has zero/negative net worth, with only 1% or so having almost all the money. Frankly a financial reboot would probably do a lot of good for the country. This coming from a guy who's doing pretty good although not quite in the 1% yet.

    The problem you're not seeing is infrastructure. No electricity rapidly means no plumbed treated tap water. The good news is I live in a river community. The bad news is the communities upstream have no electricity to run their sewage treatment plans. Pestilence and disease is going to be the big problem.

  • by molo ( 94384 ) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @12:21PM (#32579714) Journal

    Example of high power broadcast transmitters surrounded by dead cars: []

    The good news is that they tow them a few blocks and it works again.


  • Re:Scary (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cusco ( 717999 ) <brian.bixby@gma i l . c om> on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @08:05PM (#32585290)
    Actually the electrical utilities were looking at stockpiling backup transformers, worried about roving bands of Al Qaeda or Neo-Nazi terrorists shooting up substations with deer rifles. The powers-that-be took one look at the price tag, saw their quarterly bonuses and yearly stock options evaporating, and nixed any sort of actual anti-terrorist preparation that went beyond window dressing. The reasoning seemed to be that if an attack caught them unprepared they'd just be fired and take their millions with them, but if they spent enough money to put a dent in the stock price they'd be out some serious money.

    Disaster preparedness; just another victim of the MBA disease.

Syntactic sugar causes cancer of the semicolon. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982