Electromagnetic Space Storms

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Here's the most recent report. I suddenly feel the need to go to Sam's again for some reason....

Space Storms Could Disrupt Satellite, Comm Systems

October 23, 1998: 3:06 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A. (NB) -- By Gregory Slabodkin, Government Computer News. Computer crashes are not the only threat to military and civilian systems come 2000. Air Force experts and other government scientists have concluded that violent electromagnetic space storms will wreak havoc on systems at about the same time unfixed date code fails. "We're going to have a huge storm (about) Jan. 1, 2000, so people won't know what to blame it on," said Ernie Hildner, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Space Environment Center in Boulder, Colo. The center's Space Weather Operations, operated by NOAA and the Air Force, issues extraterrestrial event alerts to government and industry scientists hourly, much as the National Hurricane Center issues tropical storm or hurricane alerts. Solar and geomagnetic events such as ion bombardments and explosions on the surface of the sun can damage or knock out satellite transmissions, hamper navigation systems, cut electric power and bring down telephone systems. Unlike the Year 2000 problem, space weather is a natural phenomenon that occurs in 11-year cycles. During the cycles, powerful geomagnetic storms generated by the sun spew bursts of high-energy particles and clouds of ionized gas that can damage satellites and affect the Earth's magnetic field. Sunspots, flares, filaments, coronal holes and mass ejections emanating from the sun throw off bursts of electromagnetic particles, radiation and solar wind. Geomagnetic storms occur when blasts of solar wind bend and stretch the Earth's magnetic field. The latest solar cycle-Cycle 23-is expected to reach its maximum strength around 2000, far surpassing the strength of its predecessor, Hildner said. Geomagnetically induced current from space weather can be picked up by power lines and disable transformers, Hildner said. Solar Cycle 22 in 1989, for instance, left more than 6 million people in Quebec, Canada, without electric power for 12 hours, he said. "We've had three pulses now of activity in this cycle, and in all three we have anecdotal information that the Northeast United States power grid has felt the effects," Hildner said. "So far it hasn't risen to the level of where anybody has shut down or there has been enormous equipment damage." Recent pulses have also damaged navigation systems, especially those that depend on satellites. "We know that Global Positioning System users such as NOAA have been unable to carry out high-precision surveying during these pulses of activity," he said. The accuracy of GPS, a constellation of 24 Navstar satellites managed by the Defense Department for military and civilian use, depends on the transmission properties of the atmosphere, Hildner said. When those properties change unexpectedly during a geomagnetic storm, navigational fixes from GPS can be grossly inaccurate, he said. Such vulnerability could have devastating consequences, Hildner said. DOD relies on GPS to provide precise and accurate navigation signals to military aircraft and targeting information for its guided missiles and bombs, he said. Even though GPS satellites are hardened against electromagnetic pulses from nuclear-weapons detonation, nothing can protect the ionosphere, through which satellites transmit radio waves, from heightened solar activity. The only way to guard satellites from the sun's magnetic fields, which are thousands of times stronger than Earth's, is to wrap them with 6-inch-thick lead plating, Hildner said. Instead, DOD is turning to cheaper commercial satellites rather than military-unique systems such as Milstar, designed for strategic communications during nuclear war, he said. Iridium, which will be the largest commercial satellite constellation with 72 low-earth-orbit satellites, will also fall prey to the effects of the sun, Hildner said. The $5 billion commercial satellite communications system is designed to provide long-distance cellular telephone service to subscribers anywhere on Earth. Its customers, including DOD, will experience signal strength dropouts as a result of increased solar activity, he said. "We know that during the last solar cycle there were times when we had scintillation-the flickering of a satellite signal," Hildner. During a solar storm, energized electrons race around the Earth, creating uneven buildups of negative and positive charges on satellites. The fluctuations can affect the performance of circuits within the satellites. A solar eruption in 1995, for instance, disrupted the operations of NOAA's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites, which continuously monitor space weather by measuring solar X-rays, the Earth's magnetic field and electromagnetic particles in space. Space weather data and information are available from the Space Environment Center at http://www.sec.noaa.gov . Reported by Government Computer News, http://www.gcn.com

-- Gayla Dunbar (privacy@please.com), October 24, 1998


Sorry, forgot to give the source:


-- Gayla Dunbar (privacy@please.com), October 24, 1998.

Great - just great. First it's the 'poorly' designed systems, now we get geomagnetic/solar storms. I'm voting for just plain old rocks, in the form of the Leonids. Nothing like the good smack of a rock(meteor) against metal(satillite).


-- j (hemwat@bellsouth.net), October 24, 1998.

oh yeah... and the Leonid showers just before this... I'm selling these three events to my friends and family as a package deal for the Millennium meltdown. Still hasn't worked though. "They wont let that happen".

Mike __________________________________________________________________

-- Michael Taylor (mtdesign3@aol.com), October 24, 1998.

Thanks for the posting, Gayla. I was treated to spectacular Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) on the way home tonight, and I wondered if it might be due to the Solar Cycle. I guess not, since that isn't due 'til next year. However, it did make me think that there are silver linings. The northeastern states and Quebec may get blackouts, but the Lights are seen by people FAR further south than usual during the solar cycles. If the blackouts happen in clear weather, maybe even in NY... 8-)

-- Tricia the Canuck (jayles@telusplanet.net), October 25, 1998.


TtC>I was treated to spectacular Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) on the way home tonight, and I wondered if it might be due to the Solar Cycle.

Yes -- the aurora are the result of solar storms. The solar cycle is a rhythmic increase and decrease in the number of solar storms. See "Sunspots and the Solar Cycle" at www.sunspotcycle.com, and "The NASA Space Weather Bureau" at www.spaceweather.com.

TtC>I guess not, since that isn't due 'til next year.

The solar cycle _maximum_ is predicted to be in mid-2000, but it'll be a broad maxiumum. The number of storms has been increasing since mid-1996 and is over halfway to the maximum now.

-- No Spam Please (anon@ymous.com), October 25, 1998.

Another proof that our priorities are totally wrong. Instead of shooting junk into the universe, we should be building real houses to replace the metal shacks (also call moblie homes) people crawl around in now. Such crappy shelters cannot be found in all of Europe. If we weren't so brain-washed and exploited, no one would have to work for a living for more than a few hours a week. Blah, blah, ...

-- sucked down (he@dincommode.com), October 25, 1998.

To the "sucked down" person;

Don't condemn an aluminum mobile home during any electro-magnetic pulse arguement.....especially if you are talking to technical-types who aren't swayed by emotional appeals against "trailer-trash", who don't care to listen to diatribes about class envy or anti-technical eco-phreak propaganda.

An Al mobile home (depending on the roof material andonhow wel it is grounded) may be the absolute best place to be during a magnetic storm. The energy is kept to the outer surface, and grounded directly to the earth via the wind restraps ot tie-downs. If the interior applicances are gounded (as they should be), then a mobile home is infinitely superior to a wood frame and brick regular house.

Now, I will grant the "tornado magnet" concept of a mobile home, and also recommend (require?) a storm shelter be built for conventional high winds, and a secure (above flood level) alternate be available for floods, but there are any four things that will withstand a magnetic storm: a submerged nuclear submarine in salt water, an Army tank with the hatches dogged, an-aluminum or steel-faced high rise office building with a grounded steel frame and reflective (aluminized) windows, and a mobile home with the shades drawn.

-- Robert A. Cook, P.E. (cook.r@csaatl.com), October 25, 1998.

Solar storms may be a problem for satellites and for very-long- distance electricity transmission lines, but the thought of someone thinking he has to cower in a cellar ... ROFLMAO!

Enjoy the lights in the sky. If the power's off on 1/1/2000, you may get the best view of the milky way and/or the northern lights in living memory. I intend to enjoy it, and worry about that particular tomorrow the next day.

-- Nigel Arnot (nra@maxwell.ph.kcl.ac.uk), October 28, 1998.

We don't have those odd-looking aluminium caravans in the UK, the ones that look like pre-war aircraft fuselages on wheels (I know because thats what they are). We only have wooden ones towed most often by Morris Travellers with built in fake wood. I'm just going to sit in my shed at the bottom of the garden, or the gazebo I'm planning, if it hasn't then collapsed due to y2k problems. Are old 14C pubs converted from timber-framed manor houses immune?

-- Richard Dale (rdale@figroup.co.uk), October 28, 1998.

Oh yes just read that the mobile home is better than the 14C timber framed pub, but they really knew how to build proper in those days.

-- Richard Dale (rdale@figroup.co.uk), October 28, 1998.

PS Morris Travellers for non-English speakers are usually driven by New Age Travellers as their preferred transportation, a sort of mini version of American "shooting-brakes" C 1949, with wooden framing. Fortunately most of them are either rusted or rotted to death, one of the few cars (apart from Morgan) which can suffer this fate. The New Age Travellers still drive the dead ones though.

-- Richard Dale (rdale@figroup.co.uk), October 28, 1998.

PS the Morrises have real wood, the plywood caravans are lined with formica (fake wood finish). Think I've just about exhausted this thread (I can hear the collective sigh of relief from this side of the water).

-- Richard Dale (rdale@figroup.co.uk), October 28, 1998.

Just up on Breaking News (another thing to blame besides Y2K & Terrorism for New Year's BreakDowns) :

[ For Educational Purposes Only ]

Energy Sun May Add to Y2K Problems

5/31/99 -- 3:35 PM

CHICAGO (AP) - As if potential Year 2000 computer problems are not enough, stormy weather predicted for the sun early next year also could torment Earth's modern technology.

That could mean celebrating the new millennium in the dark, with a dead cellular phone. Ships and planes relying on satellites for navigation might have trouble. Even spacewalking astronauts are at risk.

[ Good grief, were TBTB thinking of having men up in space during rollover? ! ? ]

Researchers, using new techniques, are forecasting the sun is going to enter the most violent and disruptive part of its 11-year cycle. The worst is expected to begin in January, when computers around the world struggle to cope with possible problems caused by the Y2K bug.

Severe solar storms erupting with massive bursts of magnetic energy and radiation are expected to continue at their peak until April. Solar flares and coronal mass ejections - solar explosions that can equal a million 100 megaton bombs - send waves of energy toward the Earth.

They can cause power blackouts, block some radio communications and trigger phantom commands capable of sending satellites spinning out of their proper orbits.

Cellular telephones, global positioning signals and spacewalking astronauts all are at risk, experts said Monday at a national meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

There were two pieces of good news: The solar cycle is not expected to be as severe as some in the past, and, for the first time, there may be some warning, thanks to a government satellite that will detect bursts of solar solar energy and send about an hour's notice, said JoAnn Joselyn of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That warning, posted on the Internet and relayed through a special system, will give power companies time to align circuits to minimize or avoid damage from electrical surges, she said. Satellite operators can power down equipment or prepare to send corrective signals to their spacecraft.

Scientists have plotted 23 solar cycles, using historic and modern measurements. But the current cycle may be the most disruptive ever because much of the vulnerable communications technology now in use is new and has not been exposed to maximum solar activity, Joselyn said.

``The explosion in technology is intersecting with an extremely disturbed space environment,'' Joselyn said. ``There is much higher risk now because we depend more on technology that is vulnerable.''

Joselyn said energy bursts from the sun can cause an electrical charge to build up on the surface of satellites, triggering phantom signals.

In an earlier solar cycle, she said, small rocket thrusters on a satellites suddenly started firing, sending the spacecraft out of position. Control of another satellite was lost when its gyroscopes were disrupted.

Joselyn said cellular telephone are vulnerable because they may use the ionosphere - the region of electrically charged gases in the upper atmosphere - to send radio signals, and bursts from the sun can disturb the ionosphere. Some cellular phone systems depend on satellites that are at risk, too.

Solar energy eruptions can cause warm air to surge up from the Earth. That can drag some satellites to lower orbits, forcing satellite operators to use rocket fuel to reposition the spacecraft.

Worldwide navigation, for ships and airplanes, relies heavily on the Global Position Satellite system, which uses a fleet of satellites that can be affected by the sun, said Joselyn.

``I am worried about the GPS more than anything else,'' she said. ``We're starting to land airplanes with that system now.''

Electromagnetic energy from the sun can send huge waves of electrical energy surging along power lines, shorting circuits and burning out equipment. A 1989 solar storm caused a province-wide blackout in Quebec, and coils in a transformer station in Salem, N.J., melted and caught fire, causing a regional outage.

Astronauts generally are safe inside the shuttle or the International Space Station, but future missions to the moon or Mars will have to guard to solar radiation bursts.

``On the moon, they could get enough radiation to be lethal,'' said Joselyn. ``If we fly to Mars, we'll have to consider the hazardous radiation from the sun.''

Got sunscreen?
Another reason to completely unplug all electronic/electrical appliances after Christmas.

xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxx

-- Ashton & Leska in Cascadia (allaha@earthlink.net), May 31, 1999.

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