Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Storm Warning: Physicist Predicts Solar Damage

Date:
March 13, 2000
Source:
Adelaide University
Summary:
Australia's new national power grid and hundreds of satellites orbiting the Earth may have survived a particle explosion in last month's solar storm, but they may not be so lucky next time.

Australia's new national power grid and hundreds of satellites orbiting the Earth may have survived a recent solar particle explosion - but they might not be so lucky next time.

The warning comes from Adelaide University physicist Dr Roger Clay in the wake of last month’s solar storm which hit Earth with an interplanetary shock wave of ionized gas and magnetic fields.

Dr Clay said the solar storm on 18 February - technically known as acoronal mass ejection (CME) of high-energy particles - did not cause as much damage as some had feared, but it was likely to be the first of many such explosions in the next two to three years.

A CME consists of a group of atoms, known as a plasma, which have had their electrons stripped away from the nuclei. These travel towards earth at speeds up to 500km per second.

In sufficient quantities, the wave of particles can disrupt satellites in their path and even create an electric current big enough to disturb the Earth’s magnetic field, overloading electric power systems.

Dr Clay said the Sun had just begun its most active phase - known as "solar maximum" - with the February CME likely to be the first of many such explosions.

He said the last phase 11 years ago had caused a major disruption to the Canadian power system. Since then, many more satellites had been put into orbit around the Earth, many of which were not "radiation hardened".

"If the next solar storm is no worse than the one last month, then there’s no problem," he said.

"But of course, since the last solar maximum 11 years ago, we’ve got a lot more satellites and we depend a lot more on satellites.

"All our communication satellites, our GPS systems and these sort of satellite systems have computer chips in them." says Dr Clay.

"The computer chips are susceptible to these particles going through them because they deposit electrons in there, and that’s enough to change a zero to a one in the computer memory, which could effectively disable the satellite."

Dr Clay said the solar discharge also posed a threat to the Earth because it was equivalent to a huge electric current passing by us.

"That huge external current can disturb the Earth’s magnetic field and induce very large currents here on Earth." said Dr Clay.

"If you’ve got a large loop of wire, and you’ve got a magnetic field going through it, a change in the magnetic field induces an electrical current through the wire.

"There is a move to integrate power grids across countries so, as in many countries, what we have here in Australia, as we’ve been joining up grids between the states, are huge loops of line all connected together. When the Earth’s magnetic field changes quite rapidly, it can induce big currents in the national grid, and those currents may overload the system. Thisis what happened in Canada."

Dr Clay said CMEs would also cause major dangers for humans in space, who are without the protection of Earth’s atmosphere.

"The Apollo astronauts have said that when they shut their eyes they saw 'flashes'. Those flashes were due to these particles going through their eyes," Dr Clay said.

"It’s a high-radiation environment, and it can kill. It’s like continuous radiotherapy. We don’t have an effective protection against it, outside of the Earth’s protective atmosphere.

"Right now space agencies building a new space station to orbit the Earth. Roughly one person in one hundred per year in such an environment would die from this radiation," he said.

Dr Clay said Adelaide University’s Department of Physics and Mathematical Physics has been operating two radiation detectors - one for about two years, and another commissioned earlier this year - to study solar effects.

The 18 February CME was the first substantial test for the older detector, which responds to the early effects of CMEs, with the department now hoping to develop this detector into an automated solar storm predictor.

The newer detector recorded the local arrival of the solar debris at the Earth some four days later.

* Photo available at http://www.adelaide.edu.au/media_photos

Contact: Dr Roger Clay (618) 8303 5046 (618) 8303 5996roger.clay@adelaide.edu.au

--

Dr Rob Morrison
Science Journalist
Media, Marketing & Publications Unit
Adelaide University
work: (618) 8303 3490
fax/w: (618) 8303 4838
email: rob.morrison@adelaide.edu.au


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Adelaide University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Adelaide University. "Storm Warning: Physicist Predicts Solar Damage." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 March 2000. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/03/000308001628.htm>.
Adelaide University. (2000, March 13). Storm Warning: Physicist Predicts Solar Damage. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/03/000308001628.htm
Adelaide University. "Storm Warning: Physicist Predicts Solar Damage." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/03/000308001628.htm (accessed August 20, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Unsustainable Elephant Poaching Killed 100K In 3 Years

Unsustainable Elephant Poaching Killed 100K In 3 Years

Newsy (Aug. 20, 2014) Poachers have killed 100,000 elephants between 2010 and 2012, as the booming ivory trade takes its toll on the animals in Africa. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape

Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape

AP (Aug. 20, 2014) Nine years after Hurricane Katrina, charter schools are the new reality of public education in New Orleans. The state of Louisiana took over most of the city's public schools after the killer storm in 2005. (Aug. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Green Power Blooms as Japan Unveils 'hydrangea Solar Cell'

Green Power Blooms as Japan Unveils 'hydrangea Solar Cell'

AFP (Aug. 19, 2014) A solar cell that resembles a flower is offering a new take on green energy in Japan, where one scientist is searching for renewables that look good. Duration: 01:29 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Disquieting Times for Malaysia's 'fish Listeners'

Disquieting Times for Malaysia's 'fish Listeners'

AFP (Aug. 19, 2014) Malaysia's last "fish listeners" -- practitioners of a dying local art of listening underwater to locate their quarry -- try to keep the ancient technique alive in the face of industrial trawling and the depletion of stocks. Duration: 02:29 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins