Beta

×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

NASA Working On Solar Storm Shield

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the spf-25-trillion dept.

Communications 85

Zothecula writes "The solar storms that cause the stunning aurora borealis and aurora australis (or northern and southern polar lights) also have the potential to knock out telecommunications equipment and navigational systems and cause blackouts of electrical grids. With the frequency of the sun's flares following an 11-year cycle of solar activity and the next solar maximum expected around 2013, scientists are bracing for an overdue, once-in-100 year event that could cause widespread power blackouts and cripple electricity grids around the world. It sounds like an insurmountable problem but a new NASA project called 'Solar Shield' is working to develop a forecasting system that can mitigate the impacts of such events and keep the electrons flowing."

cancel ×

85 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Solar Shield? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34042234)

Didn't Mr Burns try something like this?

Re:Solar Shield? (1)

MattGWU (86623) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042330)

Basically, but that was to block out the sun in a bad way. This is to block out the sun in a good way. Mr. Burns needs the P.R. people NASA has.

Re:Solar Shield? (2, Informative)

s0litaire (1205168) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042346)

Didn't the UN Ban this last month... lol

Re:Solar Shield? (1)

lennier1 (264730) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042680)

No UN ban will hold up to all the lobbyist money involved in this.

Re:Solar Shield? (4, Informative)

Fluffeh (1273756) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042828)

The project is somewhat misleading in name. This isn't actually a shield of any type. It's more of a "Oh shit!" warning system. FTFA:

When a massive burst of solar wind, known as a coronal mass ejection (CME), is detected rising from the sun’s surface and headed for Earth, images from SOHO and NASA's twin STEREO spacecraft would allow a 3D model of the CME to be created and predict when it will arrive. While the CME is making its way to Earth – a trip that usually takes 24 to 48 hours (although the Carrington Event CME took just 18 hours as an earlier CME had cleared the way) – the Solar Shield team would prepare to calculate ground currents.

About 30 minutes before impact the CME would sweep past ACE, a spacecraft stationed 1.5 million km upstream from Earth. Sensors aboard ACE would make in situ measurements of the CME’s speed, density and magnetic field and transmit this data to the Solar Shield team at the Community Coordinated Modeling Center (CCMC) at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

"We quickly feed the data into CCMC computers," says Pulkkinen. "Our models predict fields and currents in Earth's upper atmosphere and propagate these currents down to the ground." With less than 30 minutes to go, Solar Shield can issue an alert to utilities with detailed information about GICs.

Re:Solar Shield? (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 3 years ago | (#34043190)

30 minutes isn't going to be enough, no way they can shutdown the entire grid that fast. Heck to really protect things they have to do more than disconnect plants, they have to open breakers on every substation they want to save to disconnect them from the miles of lines leading in and out. And even if they saved the substations there would still be problems as there are tons of transformers attached to the grid that don't have a way to be isolated and estimates are that replacing those would take years as there is just not enough global manufacturing capacity. I'm really not sure how much good the warning system will actually do if we have a large CME head straight for us.

Re:Solar Shield? (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 3 years ago | (#34046452)

If a switching plan exists in advance of the event, it's long enough to open the remotely controlled switches in a coordinated way. The smaller transformers will have much better odds of survival if they aren't powered during the event.

The hope is that if the advance warning system exists, the switching plan will be developed.

Re:Solar Shield? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34044826)

And in unrelated news:
Apple and Dell join forces within their business intelligence communities in an unprecedented move to predict their sales pipelines. No news yet whether or not they will be taking a proactive approach in triggering surges in it.

Re:Solar Shield? (1)

insufflate10mg (1711356) | more than 3 years ago | (#34045732)

A 'solar shield' could be created by simply using shielding materials on every power point that would be affected: transformers, the stations themselves, at the source, etc. Launch a giant project to shield the most vulnerable points in the power-grid to hopefully minimize the damage of a seemingly inevitable catastrophe. With all of the money thrown around in Washington D.C., it seems like a reasonable expense.

People may oppose it for financial reasons, but if the expected solar storm does occur, people will be very thankful that their country was shielded.

Re:Solar Shield? (1)

Fluffeh (1273756) | more than 3 years ago | (#34045872)

Actually, I recall reading an article about this a while back, they said that the main weakness in the whole system are large transformers, which cost a few hundred thousand dollars each. Upgrading them to be resistant to a CME would cost about ten thousand per unit. However, if an unprotected unit is struck via a CME, it has to be replaced totally.

The US Energy board/commission/whateveritwas said that this additional $10k on top of the few hundred thousand for the unit itself was going to cost too much money.

I guess that even with something as important as keeping electricity flowing through the world, everything has a pretty small event horizon when it comes to economic planning. It must indeed be better to save the $10k now and have to possibly spend the $3-400k in a few years. I must be backwards in thinking the way I think :)

Re:Solar Shield? (1)

ImitationEnergy (993881) | more than 3 years ago | (#34047250)

I was with you til you suggested "launch a giant project". We seem to fail at that a lot nowadays. Perhaps no one has told you there's nothing to worry about -NOTHING- because a government by God is about to take control of all Mankind's needs, including power and shielding humanity from harm. God's Kingdom specializes in "Giant Projects".

The recent find of Gliese 581, a red dwarf star 20 lightyears from Earth having planets in the "Goldilocks zone", is to non-believers ~and their AntiChrist group~ much the same as the star of David aka star of Bethlehem was to the Magi looking for Jesus. Gliese can be pronounced GLEE ES which, amazingly, rhymes closely with GEE SUS. Gliese 581 then is the "Star of non-David". Jesus foretold we should watch for "signs in the heavens". Evolutionists & atheists fawning over a star that leads the people away from Jesus, and fervently praying oops hoping for it to disprove God, fits the bill for me 1000%. The End is Extra Near. More information about God's Kingdom government can be found at a Kingdom Hall.

Re:Solar Shield? (1)

Agripa (139780) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056570)

A 'solar shield' could be created by simply using shielding materials on every power point that would be affected: transformers, the stations themselves, at the source, etc. Launch a giant project to shield the most vulnerable points in the power-grid to hopefully minimize the damage of a seemingly inevitable catastrophe.

The vulnerable point that needs shielding is the transmission lines themselves and that is just not practical. When the CME hits the earth it pushes the magnetic field lines around which induce common mode voltage across the transmission lines. The failure then becomes common mode insulation breakdown at the transformers themselves. Options include either disconnecting the transformers from the transmission lines (difficult) or shunting the common mode voltage in such a way as to dissipate it (proposed).

Re:Solar Shield? (1)

Lanteran (1883836) | more than 3 years ago | (#34045658)

I wonder what they would do if somebody did put up a solar shade? Nothing, most likely, because only a handful of countries have that kind of launch capabilities; and those that do probably won't waste a rocket to destroy or de orbit something helping the planet. On the other hand...

Re:Solar Shield? (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042364)

Clearly this is a job for Wile E. Coyote.

Re:Solar Shield? (1)

A. B3ttik (1344591) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042580)

I think it's more like King Leonidas from 300. "OUR SOLAR SHIELDS WILL BLOT OUT THE SUN!!!" aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

Re:Solar Shield? (1)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 3 years ago | (#34046428)

Don't be so rude. Show a little respect Sir.

It's Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius

Re:Solar Shield? (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042542)

Maybe, but mostly I'm concerned that I won't be able to use the aurora borealis as a cover when I have a kitchen mishap making Upstate NY Steamed Hams.

Nasa will be ready! (1)

Fibe-Piper (1879824) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042248)

If they start now they ought to be done in time for the next solar storms.

But... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34042260)

What will it do to Mother Earth?

Re:But... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34043232)

Nothing the father hasn't already done!

This is what NASA should be doing (-1, Troll)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042270)

Every time I hear about NASA spending money on a boondoggle like manned space flight or dumping more money into a black hole like the Space Shuttle, I get so angry. That's my tax money being squandered on useless pet projects.

But then I hear about stuff like this. Where NASA is actually trying to do something that benefits Man, and not just feed their own egos. It makes me hopeful that we can get back on track with our space program.

Maybe all it took was less funding to bring out these imaginative ideas. I don't suppose that would work in other areas of our government... Or could it?

Re:This is what NASA should be doing (5, Informative)

Delarth799 (1839672) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042878)

Yah I guess your right I mean what benefits has mankind seen from NASA sending those people into space. Well if you ignore:
Air quality monitoring systems, Air Purification, Virtual Reality, Enriched Baby Food, Water Purification Systems, Scratch Resistant Lenses, Athletic Shoes(shock absorbing), Solar Energy, Weather Forecasting Aid, Advanced keyboards, Customer Service Software, Database Management System, Laser Surveying, Aircraft controls, Lightweight Compact Disc, Microcomputers, Wind Monitoring, Radiation Insulation, Fire Resistant Materials, Sewage Treatment, Breast Cancer Detection, Programmable Pacemakers, Digital Imaging Breast Biopsy System, Radioactive Leak Detectors, Microlasers, Engine Lubricant, Advanced welding torches, Radiation Hazard Detection, Emergency Rescue Cutters, Improved Air Tanks for Firefighters, Interactive Computer Training, Doppler Radar for storm warning, Improve Aircraft Engines, Ultrasound Scanners, Automatic Insulin Pump, Portable x-ray Device.
(This list is only part in a long list of stuff)
Source: http://www.thespaceplace.com/nasa/spinoffs.html [thespaceplace.com]

Re:This is what NASA should be doing (1)

m0s3m8n (1335861) | more than 3 years ago | (#34043016)

Could not have said it better (or even come close).

Re:This is what NASA should be doing (1)

adavies42 (746183) | more than 3 years ago | (#34043242)

you forgot peace

Re:This is what NASA should be doing (1)

robot256 (1635039) | more than 3 years ago | (#34043430)

you forgot peace

sorry, we're still on version 0.51.29 beta of "world peace", stay tuned for the next bugfix patch.

Re:This is what NASA should be doing (1)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | more than 3 years ago | (#34046840)

You are making the false assumption that none of these thing would have happened without NASA or a space program. This is clearly false. In fact most of your list was never driven by the space programs needs, but rather terrestrial needs, and wasn't even developed by NASA.

Mitigate it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34042272)

Lets spend billions of dollars to prevent a 1 day blackout. Sure.

How would they mitigate it anyway? Reroute all the power to a few lines that get overloaded so then you get a blackout anyway?

Re:Mitigate it? (1)

burisch_research (1095299) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042598)

Er. More like wiping out almost all electronic devices. This is not something that is easy to recover from.

Re:Mitigate it? (3, Informative)

afidel (530433) | more than 3 years ago | (#34043212)

Uh, the problem from a large CME is actually blowing out all power plants, substations, and transformers. It would take years (or decades) to recover from because we don't have enough global manufacturing capacity to rebuild all the decades worth of installed equipment that might be fried. However as I stated up-thread I'm not sure how much a short warning is going to help.

Re:Mitigate it? (2, Interesting)

dwywit (1109409) | more than 3 years ago | (#34043898)

So, I'm off-grid with 2.5KW of PV on the roof, and 1300ah of batteries, plus inverter and regulators, and backup generator. What sort of impact will it have on me, and if my power system stays up, will the value of my place skyrocket? Or will my on-grid neighbours start turning up with food to store in my freezer, clothes to wash in my machine, and DVDs to watch on my TV?

Re:Mitigate it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34044112)

Turn up armed to evict you.

If there is a world wide blackout, You have about 3-4 days before people realise that the power aint comming back online for years.

  I too am on solar power, in a giant shed thats a pretty good faraday cage.

  I also have my zombie survival pack nearby.

Re:Mitigate it? (1)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 3 years ago | (#34044658)

Connected to much shorter wires, you won't get nearly as much of a voltage transient. On the other hand, you don't seem to have any protection in place whatsoever, so your system will be much easier to fry.

Re:Mitigate it? (1)

dwywit (1109409) | more than 3 years ago | (#34044842)

What scale of transient should I expect? The PV panels and supply cables range from 0 volts at nighttime to 31 volts on an equalising charge. The batteries drop to 23.6 occasionally but mostly range from 24 to 30 volts. The regulators have to cope with this, of course. Their heatsinks get quite warm when they switch to float charge. The sine-wave inverter is built to cope with inputs from 22 volts to 32 volts (iirc)and supply a stable 240 out - it shuts down if the supply goes out of range. I didn't mean to give the impression there was no protection at all, so what's likely to fry? The PV panels have protection diodes and also have fuses at the junction boxes (required by law in .au, these days - each panel must be fused), the battery box has a stonking big fuse and manual circuit breaker, there are circuit breakers on the household DC and AC circuits, there's an earth leakage detector/shutoff, and the inverter also has overload protection. Would induced transients jump all/most/any of these protections?

Re:Mitigate it? (1)

SiliconEntity (448450) | more than 3 years ago | (#34044872)

I've only heard of long transmission lines being affected, miles long or even hundreds of miles. A house should be fine. The only thing I'd worry about is a spike coming in from the grid itself, if all their insulators and transformers fail. I have no idea how big that might be by the time it got to you.

Re:Mitigate it? (1)

dwywit (1109409) | more than 3 years ago | (#34044988)

I'm off-grid - no connection at all, unless you include the phone line.

Re:Mitigate it? (1)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 3 years ago | (#34045418)

I'm off-grid - no connection at all, unless you include the phone line.

SiliconEntity made a good point. I was thinking of a grid-connected system, so you'd still be attached to some wires (if only from the substation). But if you're completely off the grid, you're not attached to any long wires. Even a pulse of 50 volts per kilometer isn't going to give you very much voltage across the width of your house.

Re:Mitigate it? (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 3 years ago | (#34046480)

Your phone might fry but I expect your PV system will be fine.

Re:Mitigate it? (1)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | more than 3 years ago | (#34046860)

Most are protected with breakers. The last CME that did anything (in canada) only damaged 1 out of many large transformers. No powerstations where damaged and only one of many big transformers was damaged. The rest where protected with breakers that functioned properly. Even a once in a 100 years event will not take out "all" or even close to half the power stations. Some smaller transformers, and the odd faulty larger transformer will be affected. This will be disruptive, but not nearly as much as the sensationalists want it to be.

Solar Shield? (4, Informative)

sdguero (1112795) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042302)

Seems like Solar Warning is a better name for it. It's not like they are putting something in space to shield us from anything.

Re:Solar Shield? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34042412)

Yea it's kind of weird. After reading the article, I don't recall it mentioning any kind of defense, just a warning as you said. It seems like the CCMC is going to flail their arms and shout "the sky is falling!" and utilities will have to open switches on their grids.

Alternatively, we have two years to create GIC-resistant casing for the wires. C'mon stimulus!

Re:Solar Shield? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34043472)

Seems like Solar Warning is a better name for it. It's not like they are putting something in space to shield us from anything.

Indeed. From the name thought they were using a powerful magnetic field to actually create a radiation shield to protect e.g. humans travelling to the Moon, the Mars system, etc. What a disappointment.

From: Parents
To: problemsolver@nasa.gov

Hi, we've got a big pool in the backyard, it's drained empty for winter and we're afraid people might fall in!

From: Problem Solver
To: Parents

Just put up a big sign that says "Careful! Don't fall in!"

Re:Solar Shield? (1)

sempir (1916194) | more than 3 years ago | (#34046832)

Wonders.........might not be a bad idea to buy some shares in "SunBlok"! Somebody is bound to think it will be a good idea. Er....

except... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34042306)

This cycle, the sunspots have been at more of a minimum, when they should have been back in close to full swing, except now it's still close to a minimum, when, as the article points out, it should have been a little over 2 years to the maximum.

We've had strong sunspots before, and they haven't taken out the grid or telecommunications. True, they have an effect on the high frequencies, but little, if any, on microwave or ultra high frequencies used by many satellites.

The future is now! Or...is it? (1)

MattGWU (86623) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042310)

Just so we're clear, this isn't an actual, physical solar shield?

Yawn. Ok, maybe it'll help, but just saying, if you're going to give something a name like "Solar Shield", don't expect people to be underwhelmed. Even IF there are satellites involved.

Come to think of it, if there WAS a huge circular ultra-thin metallic doodad protecting us from certain doom, somebody would want to advertise on it. "Rays of death and inconvenience shooting at our planet from a star averted by Sprite, who remind you to always Obey Your Thirst(tm)"

Re:The future is now! Or...is it? (2, Insightful)

snspdaarf (1314399) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042666)

Yeah, this seems to be more of a system to send an alert to the utility companies.

"At the tone, it will be 15 minutes until all your power transmission shit explodes."

I presume this will be to give them a chance to disconnect critical and expensive stuff? I mean, if you don't have protection gear on your system, is 18 - 48 hours enough to get anything of significance installed? Even if you have protective equipment, there is no way to be absolutely sure it will function this time.

What am I missing here?

Re:The future is now! Or...is it? (2, Insightful)

Dutch Gun (899105) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042702)

It's a shield in the same way we're "shielded" from tsunamis and hurricanes by coordinated early-warning systems. That's essentially what they're describing, near as I can tell from the article.

Oh, and BTW, since when is a physical shield the epitome of high-tech? Don't you watch Star Trek?

Re:The future is now! Or...is it? (1)

anyGould (1295481) | more than 3 years ago | (#34043252)

So, what we're buying is a recording of Jonathan Frakes yelling "Shields up! Brace for impact!" ?

Faraday cages (2, Informative)

Jogar the Barbarian (5830) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042338)

If this topic has gotten you concerned about your personal stuff getting fried (if not by a CME, then by a nuclear EMP), you may want to look into constructing a Faraday cage. Here's a couple helpful links:
http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100211130814AAGmUNZ [yahoo.com]
http://forums.makezine.com/comments.php?DiscussionID=752 [makezine.com]

Re:Faraday cages (1)

snspdaarf (1314399) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042482)

Well, I think if there is a nuclear EMP that fries my personal stuff, I probably have a much bigger problem on the way than would be helped by a Faraday cage. Are you serious, or just looking to stretch people's chain?

Re:Faraday cages (1)

zero_out (1705074) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042684)

Unfortunately, they will be pretty much useless for anything expect storing backups. A Faraday Cage needs to be 100% enclosed, which means no power cables, no ethernet, no anything coming out or going into it. You can get around this by using some industrial strength filters, but those are expensive. The only reasonable use for a Faraday Cage to protect a spare laptop and backup storage media (external HDDs, tapes, thumb drives, etc.). That way, when an EMP from solar wind or as a precursor to nuclear war knocks out everything, you can open up your Faraday Cage and pull out your laptop and backups.

Of course, at that point we'll be more concerned about drinking water since the vast majority of the water supplied to cities and neighborhoods in the U.S. use massive electric pumps to make it potable and deliver it. Only 1 in 10 vehicles will run since the newest 9/10 of vehicles on the road rely on electronics which will fry, so food will start to become an issue soon after the water. At least we always have at least one EMP-proof flying communications hub in the air at all times. That way, the President can still find out what happened, why, and in the case of nuclear war, who did it, where to aim our nukes, and be able to issue launch codes to our subs around the world.

Constructing a Faraday Cage is pretty low on my list of disaster preparedness tasks, but those links are still pretty cool.

Re:Faraday cages (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34043264)

"Of course, at that point we'll be more concerned about drinking water since the vast majority of the water supplied to cities and neighborhoods in the U.S. use massive electric pumps to make it potable and deliver it."

Who drinks tap water these days? I buy water in plastic gallon containers, but most people buy the 0.5l bottles.

Anyway mostly I drink mello yello, Mt Dew or vault.

Tap water is for washing, not drinking.

Re:Faraday cages (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34044092)

Does it have electrolytes?

  Of course with no trucks, pumps, supermarkets you won't be drinking fresh filtered water out of your half gallon containers but recycled body fluids.

great initiative.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34042340)

and it only took about 50 years of experience to initiate.

The northern lights are on my "todo" list. (2, Interesting)

caluml (551744) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042370)

I really want to see the aurora borealis in my lifetime - and there are apparently occasions when it is visible as far south as 51 degrees north - the Southern UK. Failing that, I'll go to Norway and rent a special igloo [google.co.uk] .
There was one of these solar storms in the 1850s, I think, and it set telegraph wires alight, causing fires. Imagine what it would do today.

Re:The northern lights are on my "todo" list. (1)

caluml (551744) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042408)

Norway, Finland..... Anywhere "up and to the right" of me. :)

I should take this opportunity to link to the solar storms I was talking about [wikipedia.org]

Re:The northern lights are on my "todo" list. (1)

RandomFactor (22447) | more than 3 years ago | (#34043736)

Point of order... are Norway and Finland really to the 'right' of anyone?

Re:The northern lights are on my "todo" list. (1)

caluml (551744) | more than 3 years ago | (#34044608)

Sure - look at a map, find the UK on there, and go up and right, and you're in Finland.

Re:The northern lights are on my "todo" list. (1)

swanzilla (1458281) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042548)

There was one of these solar storms in the 1850s, I think, and it set telegraph wires alight, causing fires. Imagine what it would do today.

What hath God wrought?

Re:The northern lights are on my "todo" list. (1)

caluml (551744) | more than 3 years ago | (#34044628)

Oh the luminosity!

Your site is quite amusing, btw. :)

Re:The northern lights are on my "todo" list. (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042734)

Actually, where I live in Heidelberg, Germany (49.4167 Breitengrad), we had a serious aurora borealis a while back. And what was I doing? Scratching my hairy ass in in bed. The lights were so bright that folks called the police and thought that a chemical factory in nearby Ludwigshafen was on fire, or something.

And I missed it all . . . shit!

Apocalypse! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34042398)

The apocalypse is going to be in 2012, not 2013. This article is wrong, and NASA can't save us from the apocalypse.

Re:Apocalypse! (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 3 years ago | (#34043260)

I can imagine the romans or the catholic church messing up with our calendar at one point or another. For all we know, we're in 1930. Or 2050.

Brilliant (4, Informative)

simula (1032230) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042428)

Here is a much better article from the horse's mouth:

http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2010/26oct_solarshield/ [nasa.gov]

I was feeling a little dismal about the situation until I read this report. Simply brilliant! Advanced warning so that we can unplug giant transformers and other vital and hard to replace portions of the grid before we're hit.

Electrical grids (1, Troll)

SirGarlon (845873) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042630)

I am getting tired of people quoting imaginary threats against the electrical grid. Y2K could bring down the electrical grid worldwide. Hackers could bring down the electrical grid worldwide. Terrorists could bring down the electrical grid worldwide. Cyber-warfare could bring down the electrical grid nationwide. Now, solar flares.

Your mama could bring down the electrical grid. When will the reality come through, that the electrical grid is actively maintained and it ain't that fragile? Major power failures happen what, once in 5 years in developed countries? And for most "victims" they are merely an inconvenience. More people die every year from food poisoning or slipping in the bathroom than in the blackout of the decade.

Re:Electrical grids (2, Insightful)

Councilor Hart (673770) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042886)

Canada, March 13, 1989. Sometimes solar flares do cause blackouts.

Re:Electrical grids (1)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | more than 3 years ago | (#34046868)

IIRC for 9 hours. And It wasn't the whole grid. It was an inconvenience.

Re:Electrical grids (1)

chickenarise (1597941) | more than 3 years ago | (#34043076)

Thanks armchair electrical grid expert. I guess we should all trust you, and not the researchers who actually try to find out the limitations of our various systems. If you bothered to do some simple googling, you would find that the vast majority of the transformers used to distribute power on the grid have a certain ground current tolerance, and as such, if a ground current is produced above this tolerance the transformer breaks in a very expensive way. About a century ago, right when the telegraph was pretty new, there was a solar storm that caused shocks to telegraph operators because the ground current was so high. Just as the article suggests, it is likely we will have a similar event soon and it will probably wipe out a lot of transformers, leaving most of us without power for many months.

Re:Electrical grids (3, Informative)

zero_out (1705074) | more than 3 years ago | (#34043086)

These are not imaginary threats. They are very real.

There is the solar storm of 1859 [nasa.gov] which caused fires that burned down multiple telegraph offices.

Remember the blackout of 2003 [nerc.com] ? The link is to a report straight from NERC, the power grid regulatory commission responsible for the area involved in the blackout.

Then let's not forget about stuxnet [cnet.com] worm.

It is painfully obvious that these are not just crazy fears. As someone who has intimate knowledge of IT systems within a major U.S. power company conglomerate, and is very close to someone who designs/tests/commissions power plant generator hardware, I can assure you that these threats are very real.

Re:Electrical grids (1)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | more than 3 years ago | (#34046894)

What not real is that if/when it happens we will all go back to the stone age.

There are breakers and there are redundancy. Sure some folks will have some power outages. Where i grew up that was every windy day. Big deal. We are not going to all die because we don't have electricity for a week. Or even a month or more. We are not all going to stare at empty computer screens and bemoan the end of days because i can't log into /.

And a few fires and a 1859 telegraph system is hardly representative of a modern grid (hint, it was total crap). I mean how many people died that year from lightning strikes?

When someone is talking doom and woe to all look at the impending disaster. Ask what he is selling. Because it won't be free.

Re:Electrical grids (1)

SirGarlon (845873) | more than 3 years ago | (#34051956)

Remember the blackout of 2003 [nerc.com] ?

Yes. I believe I lost a half-day of work in that. Maybe a whole day. It was more than 5 years ago, and for most (not all) of the people affected it was an inconvenience, not a crisis. It was not a national disaster on the scale of Hurricane Katrina or the 9/11 attacks, which is what the fear mongers are trying to compare solar flares with.

What is the biggest power failure that happened since then?

Re:Electrical grids (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34043130)

You're right, lots of issues have claimed bad stuff, but that doesn't mean solar activity does not pose a threat. Personally I have never given any credibility to those other threats you mentioned -- but solar activity gives me the willies.

Re:Electrical grids (1)

Reapman (740286) | more than 3 years ago | (#34043194)

I know it's cool and all to say how tired of hearing about this, but your view doesn't in any way have an impact on reality. We support communities who only have a sat link as their means of communication. Yearly we have communication problems due to sun transit, often for hours. There's nothing we can do but wait until it sorts itself out. Although I imagine (IANAS) we're talking about two slightly different things, I see no reason why a massive solar flare couldn't do a ton of more damage.

By the way, power is used for a lot more then your XBox. I'm assuming you live somewhere where it doesn't get below zero much eh? Try living without power for a week in sub zero temperatures.

Re:Electrical grids (1)

Jonathan_S (25407) | more than 3 years ago | (#34049336)

I'm assuming you live somewhere where it doesn't get below zero much eh? Try living without power for a week in sub zero temperatures.

I'd hope that anyone living someplace that cold would have at least a backup heating system that didn't rely on electricity. (Or the ability to go someplace that did have such a system)

Re:Electrical grids (1)

Reapman (740286) | more than 3 years ago | (#34051614)

You'd be mistaken, since a lot of people have the view of the poster I was refering to. Basically that our power system is just so damn awesome nothing seriously bad could ever happen.

An example, where I live there's about a million people in the city, with outlying communities. It can get -40C in the winter. I live in 19 story building, so to have a wood burning stove doesn't really make a lot of sense in an apartment complex of that scale. Nor does a diseal generator, and if it did, where would a million people get diseal? How long would that be sustainable?

Also around here, cars stored outside are plugged in with a block heater to ensure they start when it's -40C. A lot of people would have dead cars that couldn't go anywhere, and where would we go even if all our cars would start? A mass exodus on the highways would be reaaaaaaaaaaaaaal fun. The American border is a good 10 hour drive for me, and warm weather even further then that in January.

Flip side, if it's scorching hot, and people don't have AC, you'd see a lot of the elderly and weak having a tough time surviving.

Most western societies have a VERY large dependence on power. Most people would be completely clueless as to what to do.

Re:Electrical grids (1)

idontgno (624372) | more than 3 years ago | (#34043574)

"I think that all good, right thinking people in this country are sick and tired of being told that all good, right thinking people in this country are fed up with being told that all good, right thinking people in this country are fed up with being sick and tired. I'm certainly not, and I'm sick and tired of being told that I am"

Is this a joke? (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042686)

A *warning* system that will allow us to "send alerts." Well, woo hoo! Yeah, that'll show that nasty solar storm! Of course, the millions of miles of wire generating current will still fry anything connected to them and/or themselves, and our satellite system will be largely toast, but gosh *darn* it, we'll know 15 minutes ahead of time that it's going to happen.

Of course, to do anything real like putting our grid underground as we upgrade it would cost real money so we can forget that one.

Re:Is this a joke? (2, Insightful)

rokstar (865523) | more than 3 years ago | (#34043262)

Yes a warning system, so you know you can disconnect the important stuff from those millions of miles of wires. You know so the transformers don't all go pop at the same time?

Re:Is this a joke? (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 3 years ago | (#34043604)

It's not just the transformers I'd worry about. During the Carrington event, even the pylons created sparks. These days we have miles of metal power carriers, not to mention the wires between them acting as an impromptu generator.

While I'd like to think that the folks who run the power systems are bright enough and well organized enough to cut the power and disconnect the dangerous bits, I doubt that the system is set up for this, or that some half-witted upper management fool wouldn't think the engineers were overreacting and decide not to cut the power as that might affect his bonus negatively if he did and nothing severe happened.

So, if you absolutely trust the designers of the electrical system, and the reaction time of decisions that have to go through management, this might help. Better than nothing, I guess.

But not much.

oh good, time travel! (1)

anza (900224) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042942)

Oh good, I can finally predict the next solar flare to send a note back in time from 2010 to 2001 and fix the future by stopping that world changing event from occurring!
/end stargate reference

Phunny (0, Troll)

U8MyData (1281010) | more than 3 years ago | (#34043168)

"Department of Solar Security and Global Warming has raised the threat level from Yellow (hot) to Red (really f'n hot). Although widespread power outages and satellite failures are expected, most of the resulting problems will be due to over use of air conditioners. We appreciate the hysteria created when Y2K forecasts caused widespread panic; however, DSSGW strenuously recommends that citizens vote Democratic during this next election to appease the Solar God of Politico thus saving the women and children from solaritis." Really? Sounds like another example of manufactured stress and "never let a good crisis go to waste" exercise. Enough already...

i see stocks in lead rising (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34043246)

ill make a bomb er solar proof shelter and put all the pirated stuff there
MUHAHA
all thats left of mankinds tech ..thanks to a pirate

2012 (1)

trapnest (1608791) | more than 3 years ago | (#34043386)

I like how the event is supposed to happen in 2012 but the summery probably doesn't want to mention that because of all the crazies it would attract.

Getting Ready for the CME (1)

Jerome from Layton (1930180) | more than 3 years ago | (#34045834)

EMP and a CME share one thing in common. They have the capacity to generate large currents in long conductors. Now, here is where it gets interesting: Not all "long conductors" are electrical lines. Railroad tracks and pipelines are two things where surprising things can happen and there are a lot more of them than there was in 1859. Those pipes carry everything from natural gas and petroleum to water. Some moderately long conductors are verticle including tall buildings and antenna towers. How do they tether heliostats? Those are the observation baloons that keep an eye on our borders and other places. Yes, I would prefer the term "Solar Warning" and like the concept. The best part is the early warning starting with seeing a ten minute old event that won't get here for another 8 to 24 hours. Can they do a system shut down and swing shorting bars in that kind of time? Right now would not be too early to start the planning and practicing.
Check for New Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?
or Connect with...

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>