What's Wrong with the Sun

Of course, there isnothing wrong with the sun.  It is merelydoing what it has always done.  What iswrong is that in the past century and particularly in the past decade, we choseto stick our bare behinds out in the way of the occasional blow torch andeveryone knows it will hurt if we catch it.

We actually need tosnug things up under the control of perhaps NORAD in particular and similaragencies else where.  Our sensors willprovide warning that a major EMP blast is on the way and even what time it willhit.  Like a tsunami, very little time isavailable to do the right thing, but if one knows what the right thing is andappropriate drills have been undertaken, it is possible to ride it all out.

Power companies inparticular must go into emergency shutdown. Public alarms need to be sounded, but the first alarm for most would bethe power going down.

Plenty of damage isstill going to occur, but this way it is constrained to a lot of friedelectronics.  The public could even be ina position to largely ride it out.

The take home now isthat simple cheap methods can hugely control prospective damage.  We used them to survive bombs and otherthreats, and implementing them is an exercise in education and communityplanning. 

Ideally the grid can bebrought on line almost immediately and then properly brough up again buildingby building. 

What's wrong with the sun?

The sun has been worrying scientists for quitea while.

Back in the late 1990s its eruptions became increasingly violent until itspewed mammoth plasma streamers at an intensity and rate never observed at anyother time in history. Earth's satellites were at risk as well as electricalpower grids and all electrical communications.

Then the sun went quiet—abnormally quiet. Normal cycles of increased activitycame and went with little or no sunspot activity. Around the globe sun watchersbegan to ask each other—a bit uneasily—what was wrong with the sun?

Their question is about to be answered. The giant is about to awaken from itsabnormal slumber and scientists around the world, NASA included, are veryconcerned.

The director of NASA's Heliophysics Division, Richard Fisher, sheds some lighton the growing worry: "The sun is waking up from a deep slumber, and inthe next few years we expect to see much higher levels of solar activity. Atthe same time, our technological society has developed an unprecedentedsensitivity to solar storms. The intersection of these two issues is what we'regetting together to discuss."

Fisher echoes the growing worry amongst electrical engineers, computer experts,space application experts—even the Pentagon.

The warning shot has been fired

The solar space probe, Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) recorded one of thelargest solar eruptions in years on April 19, 2010. Experts breathed acollective sigh of relief as the solar storm missed our planet by a widemargin. Some expressed the opinion that we dodged a major bullet.

How long we can continue dodging that bullet is a matter of speculation. Thelaw of averages, however, leads the experts in heliophysics (the study of theproperties of the sun) to suspect our days are numbered. The odds of avoiding aplanet crippling storm are piling up against Earthlings and our fragile,susceptible technology underlying our civilization. As the sun awakes our riskincreases. 

Emergency measures to be discussed

At the Space Weather Enterprise Forum being held at the National Press Club onJune 8th, some of the world's solar experts are gathering to decide how toprotect our technology (and by extension, our civilization) from a rampaging,exploding sun.

Earth's necklaceof orbiting satellites are particularly at risk. The suggestion has been madeto place them in a 'safe-mode' that—theoretically at least—afford them someprotection from the electrified plasma and energized particles of a full blownsolar storm blasting Earth.

Forecasting the intensity, duration and direction of a storm is critical todefending against it.

Forecasting the sun's next move is the business of NOAA's SpaceWeather PredictionCenter in Boulder, Colorado.Its director, Thomas Bogdan notes that, "Space weather forecasting isstill in its infancy, but we're making rapid progress."

In that regard, an old NASA satellite, the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE)launched in 1997, is Bogdan's choice for early warning. "ACE is our bestearly warning system," asserts Bogdan. "It allows us to notifyutility and satellite operators when a storm is about to hit.”

Now into its 4th year, the annual meeting of the Space Weather Enterprise Forum  takes on a special newurgency. Many of the speakers carry with them an aura of increased intensityalmost matching that of the star they are focused upon.

As one unnamed observer remarked, the underlying current of the participantsthis year is one of "frenetic calm." 

Back in 2008, the National Academy of Sciencesissued their dire report: "Severe Space Weather Events—Societal andEconomic Impacts." The report outlined, in excruciating detail, thepotential demise of America's 21 st Century technological base—and theresulting havoc to the economy and society. It spelled out how people in thefirst world countries rely heavily upon technologies at risk from solar storms—atechnology that powers financial systems, power grids, water plants, airtravel, farming, transportation, GPS navigation of aircraft and sea goingvessels...even the daily operation of government at all levels. 

A massive solar storm hitting Earth could kick the US back into the 19th Century andcause havoc for years.

Fisher worries aloud, "I believe we're on the threshold of a new era inwhich space weather can be as influential in our daily lives as ordinaryterrestrial weather. We take this very seriously indeed."

Go to the Space Weather EnterpriseForum home page here forcomplete information.

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