White House prepares for solar storm that could cost $2 trillion damage to satellites, spacecraft & vital communications systems

By @vitthernandez on
High-Speed Solar Wind
Dark area across the top of the sun, known as a coronal hole, a region on the sun where the magnetic field is open to interplanetary space, sending coronal material speeding out in what is called a high-speed solar wind stream, is shown in this handout photo taken October 10, 2015 and provided by NASA October 14, 2015. The high-speed solar wind originating from this coronal hole, imaged by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, created a geomagnetic storm near Earth that resulted in several nights of auroras. This image was taken in wavelengths of 193 Angstroms, which is invisible to our eyes and is typically colorized in bronze, according to NASA. REUTERS/NASA/SDO/Handout via Reuters Reuters/NASA

Using data collected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) researchers who have been tracking the progress of solar storms in three dimension as the storm bears down on Earth, the federal government crafted a strategic plan in preparation for an extreme space weather event.

That weather event, usually in the form of geomagnetic storms, could disrupt life across the globe as more people become dependent on electronic communications. The extreme weather event has the potential to destroy satellites, spacecraft and vital communications systems worth $2 trillion.

Because many of these electrical systems are inter-dependent, a disruption would create havoc short of a Doomsday scenario because of the heavy reliance on electronics. To avert such a scenario, the National Science and Technology Council of the White House released over the weekend its strategic plan to prepare for the event.

One step taken by the federal government is the 24/7 surveillance on the Sun being done by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Centre. NOAA provides proper agencies, including airlines, space satellite operators and power firms 12- to 15-hour warnings before a solar storm strikes Earth after an eruption occurs, reports Science Alert.

The agency has a tsunami buoy, or the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE), floating about 932,000 miles from Earth, between the planet and the Sun, to determine the intensity of a solar storm, explains Thomas Berge, director of the centre. However, since the ACE is ageing, now 17 years in service, NOAA would soon replace it with the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite.

The establishment of benchmarks for space-weather events, which is what the NOAA centre is performing, is one of the six strategic goals under the 38-page White House plan. The give others are to enhance response and recovery capabilities; improve protection and mitigation efforts; improve assessment, modelling, and prediction of impacts on critical infrastructure; improve space-weather services through advancing understanding and forecasting; and increase international cooperation.

Outside the US, the European Space Agency is also working with scientists from 14 European nations to develop a warning network.

A National Academy of Science report in 2008 warned that a century-class solar storm could have the economic impact of 20 Hurricane Katrinas.

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