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Insurance Claims Reveal Hidden Electronic Damage From Geomagnetic Storms

Soulskill posted about two weeks ago | from the new-bofh-excuse dept.

Technology 78

KentuckyFC writes: On 13 March 1989, a powerful geomagnetic storm severely disrupted the Hydro-Québec high-voltage grid triggering numerous circuit breakers and blacking out much of eastern Canada and the northeastern U.S. Since then, Earth has been hit by numerous solar maelstroms without such large-scale disruption. But the smaller-scale effect of these storms on low voltage transmissions lines, and the equipment connected to them, has been unknown. Until now. Researchers from the Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory have analyzed insurance claims for damage to industrial electrical equipment between 2000 and 2010 and found a clear correlation with geomagnetic activity. They say that the number of claims increases by up to 20 per cent on the days of highest geomagnetic activity. On this basis, they calculate that the economic impact of geomagnetic damage must amount to several billion dollars per year. That raises the question of the impact these storms have on household electronic equipment, such as computers, smartphones and tablets, and whether domestic insurance claims might throw some light on the issue.

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78 comments

Deductible (3, Insightful)

Himmy32 (650060) | about two weeks ago | (#47431365)

Probably the damages are below the cost of a homeowner/renters deductible. Lot's of difference between making a claim on a $30 microwave and a $20,000 piece of industrial equipment. Even more so the correlation would probably not be a tight as consumers probably would have a much larger standard deviation on time between equipment failure and when the claim was filed.

Look somewhere else (4, Insightful)

Brit_in_the_USA (936704) | about two weeks ago | (#47431417)

Then look in the sales numbers for replacement appliances and computer pars form bestbuy, newegg etc.

Re:Look somewhere else (2)

Himmy32 (650060) | about two weeks ago | (#47431479)

Good idea, however even if geomagnetic activity was a significant cause to consumer equipment failures, I think that would be hard to see through the random noise on other reasons for buying new equipment like sales and new models.

Re:Look somewhere else (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47431623)

Good statistical analysis should be able to pick this out, particularly if you add geographic data into the mix. This is what computers are good at. One thing that you wouldn't be able to pick out from sales data that I would be interested in seeing is what makes and models are most susceptible.

Re: Look somewhere else (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47434941)

Computers don't do statistical analysis, people do - and just because you can put together a rotting whale corpse of a dataset doesn't mean any information can be derived from it.

Re:Deductible (1)

sjames (1099) | about two weeks ago | (#47432887)

In addition, the generally crappy value engineered quality of consumer goods will add a lot of noise.

Buy Surge Protectors (3, Interesting)

Virtucon (127420) | about two weeks ago | (#47431375)

If you haven't already bought them, buy surge protectors. After replacing the fourth dishwasher in our less than 8 year old house due to circuitry issues we installed a whole house surge protector. They work and it doesn't take a magnetic storm to cause issues, most of the grid delivery is +/- 15% on voltage just in my area normally.

Re:Buy Surge Protectors (4, Insightful)

Himmy32 (650060) | about two weeks ago | (#47431425)

Not to be pedantic, but people probably would want power conditioners not surge protectors to guard against those conditions. Surge protectors are built to prevent voltage spikes where power conditioners are built to deal with brown-outs and "overvoltage" generally along with spikes.

Re:Buy Surge Protectors (4, Interesting)

Lumpy (12016) | about two weeks ago | (#47431485)

99% of the surge suppressors you can buy at stores are useless crap that simply use a $0.29 MOV to shunt a voltage spike. they will do NOTHING to stop most real problems that come in on data lines and NOT power. Those things are designed to stop surges from your vacuum cleaner, your furnace and AC, and the industrial building down the street.

We have customers whine every thunderstorm asking why did their $9.95 surge suppressor not stop lightning damage... It cant, in fact you can not buy anything on this planet that can stop a close or direct lightning hit.

I have seen lightning blow up electronics that were unplugged and sitting in the cardboard box. getting a hard strike 8 feet from the south wall where all the gear was going to be installed. Every single device was fried when we opened the boxes and hooked it up.

Re:Buy Surge Protectors (2)

Virtucon (127420) | about two weeks ago | (#47431571)

My data comes in on fiber optic cable, no worries there. Also I buy APC units, they're worth the investment.

Re:Buy Surge Protectors (2)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about two weeks ago | (#47433005)

APC used to be good, but these days most of their range is crap. They went the same route as DeWalt and many other once good brands, relying on their name to sell rather than continued quality.

Also, they are a US company making things that connect to your network/computer, so you have to worry about the NSA. A surge protector filtering your entire internet connection as it comes into your house would be a fantastic place for a bug.

Re:Buy Surge Protectors (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47436089)

Had several 3000/6000 KVA APC units catch fire, They didn't have noticeable flames or external damage, The only way we knew was calls to our helpdesk saying they smell elec. burning from the closets and when we took the batteries out of the cabinets there were big burnt spots where they caught fire. (of course this was on top of the very high failure rates, some having to be replaced after only a few days of replacing another)

After several of these units did this and would leak liquid lead-acid out we called APC only to be told "Strange that's not supposed to happen with the type of batteries that are used" (non-spillable)

I have had several 3000/6000 KVA units that the manufacturing plants forgot to drill the holes for the rack-mount brackets correctly (some were not drilled at all, some with the wrong size hole, others shifted slightly)

We're getting Liebert on any new replacements (even the small desk units), We're done with APC. (as soon as they die they're going to a recycler)

Re:Buy Surge Protectors (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47431691)

It cant, in fact you can not buy anything on this planet that can stop a close or direct lightning hit.

I have seen lightning blow up electronics that were unplugged and sitting in the cardboard box. getting a hard strike 8 feet from the south wall where all the gear was going to be installed. Every single device was fried when we opened the boxes and hooked it up.

Wrong. How do commercial antenna located on towers and other locations that are prime targets for large and small strikes survive at all? The CN Tower in Toronto, Canada has an average of 75 strikes a year [blogto.com] . Any commercial radio station in Florida would be bankrupt if they lost their transmitters after every time their antennas were hit.

Just because you don't know how to do it [wikipedia.org] , doesn't make it impossible.

Re:Buy Surge Protectors (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about two weeks ago | (#47431963)

Doesn't do you a damned thing if the lightning hits the power line a block down the street.

Re:Buy Surge Protectors (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47432171)

What does that have to do with the original claim, which was about direct or close lightning hits?

Re:Buy Surge Protectors (3, Interesting)

sjames (1099) | about two weeks ago | (#47432977)

Overstated, not wrong. There's nothing you can buy for the home that won't cost several times more money than the equipment being protected.

You can buy arresters that will protect against near misses, but if a bolt of lightning hits the outdoor antenna, the TV and arrester will become smoking chunks of plastic and metal.

Re:Buy Surge Protectors (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47436289)

if a bolt of lightning hits the outdoor antenna

Outdoor antennae are grounded with at least 16 mm2 or AWG 5 copper cable just for that eventuality.

Re:Buy Surge Protectors (1)

sjames (1099) | about two weeks ago | (#47436787)

If a bolt of lightning hits it, that cable will vaporize. And in fact, many of them are not at all that well grounded.

Re:Buy Surge Protectors (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47438387)

You can work out what it takes to vaporize a AWG 5 cable and get that it takes several 100 kA sustained over a millisecond time period to do, and rarely does lightning reach that. I've seen my antenna hit multiple times before, and the grounding strap works fine. The problem is if you have mechanical damage or corrosion creating a high resistance or weak point, then there would be a lot of heating or mechanical stress from the magnetic field. Then you will find several inches of the cable gone.

Re:Buy Surge Protectors (1)

Lumpy (12016) | about two weeks ago | (#47433321)

Tubes are why. I suggest you read up on how Commercial high power transmitters work.

Not much vacuum tube gear (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47433531)

Most commercial broadcast transmitters these days are solid state. Lots of modules ganged up. For AM stations, essentially a giant DAC. For FM and TV, more likely lots of power combiners. There probably are some big shortwave broadcasters using big tubes, although Harris and Continental both have SS transmitters. And, of course, if you have a functioning station which was built in the 60s, you're going to keep it going.

Virtually all communications radio repeaters are solid state, and they are installed in places that get hit by lightning repeatedly.

Lightning protection is actually fairly well understood. It's not cheap to do it right, so for most consumer applications, it's cheaper to buy new gear in the event of a problem than to make it lightning proof. OTOH, if you're safety of life critical and need 24/7, 99.999% availability, you spend the money.

Re:Buy Surge Protectors (2)

epwpixieqneg1 (3709433) | about two weeks ago | (#47431781)

Enjoying some 300-400KV sparks at home usually costs me several electronic measuring devices, this is why over time I have migrated to the old ( and lovely beautiful ) VT. With their robustness they can withstand most of the high voltage spikes one can get, unless of course it burns it by going over it power ratings. This is not to say for the poor digital controls they will "smoke", if not extremely well shielded, even under simple HV pulse in the ambient environment. Note, the dielectric impulse will find its way in the most supplement one to ones electronic controls. This is why it is an interesting , and amazing, read about one of Tesla's ingenious experiments: http://uncletaz.com/library/sc... [uncletaz.com] Regrettably, our technology evolved in the most unnatural way of processing information: low voltage and (comparatively) high current versus high voltage and (comparatively) low current, which is the natural way to move energy/information in nature.

Re:Buy Surge Protectors (4, Interesting)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about two weeks ago | (#47431799)

I've done that on a small scale, building a can-crusher. It puts out such powerful magnetic field it's like a mini-EMP - at close range it disrupts recording equipment. Camera electronics crash.

Re:Buy Surge Protectors (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | about two weeks ago | (#47432055)

I have seen lightning blow up electronics that were unplugged and sitting in the cardboard box. getting a hard strike 8 feet from the south wall where all the gear was going to be installed. Every single device was fried when we opened the boxes and hooked it up.

I'm guessing from the resultant EMP frying the gates on the chip? Or was there visible damage from stray lightning forking from the original bolt?

Re:Buy Surge Protectors (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47432119)

Yep. Orlando resident here. Just had some lightning damage Saturday night. I have a whole house surge suppressor, along with good quality point-of-use surge supressors that the electronics are plugged into. Had a close hit. Saw the flash and heard a "pop" noise from the light fixtures at the same instant. Followed 1 second later by the thunder. Took out the 8-port gigabit switch, the power supply for the router, and the power supply for the USB hard drive plugged into the router. Conveniently the power supply for the switch worked on the router, so I moved that and swapped around some other switches and got things back up. Living in Orlando I expect that kind of damage every summer and keep spares in stock.

Re:Buy Surge Protectors (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47432533)

We have customers whine every thunderstorm asking why did their $9.95 surge suppressor not stop lightning damage... It cant,

Of course it can. Surge protectors are rated for specific Joules - an amount of energy. Around here, each power pole has an insulator that will conduct to the ground extra voltage. Power lines have quite a bit of capacitance too so unless your transformer is hit directly, lightning will most likely not affect much.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S... [wikipedia.org]

Many surge protectors tend to come with "connected equipment warranty". If they were useless, as you say, this warranty should be terrible business for the insurers.

I have seen lightning blow up electronics that were unplugged and sitting in the cardboard box. getting a hard strike 8 feet from the south wall where all the gear was going to be installed. Every single device was fried when we opened the boxes and hooked it up.

It's called induction.

Comparing this to geomagnetic storm is ridicules.

Re:Buy Surge Protectors (1)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47433037)

The best surge protector is always a whole house protector at point of ingress, absolutely no one should strictly rely on plug in surge suppressors alone, most are snake oil and can lead to a false sense of security.

Re:Buy Surge Protectors (1)

Virtucon (127420) | about two weeks ago | (#47431491)

That's next in the budget. I've had two neighbors with lightening strike damage and with our voltage problems, the Type 1 surge protector has done well for us.

Re:Buy Surge Protectors (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47431439)

A surge protector won't protect you from undervoltage, which you certainly get if you get up and down 15% voltage!

I'm not convinced the magnetic storms do as much damage as claimed. Do the areas that get the auroras see higher damage?

And using filed claims to "prove" causation is questionable, at best as scientific proof!

Re:Buy Surge Protectors (2)

Dishevel (1105119) | about two weeks ago | (#47431669)

And using filed claims to "prove" causation is questionable, at best as scientific proof!

Really?

Seeing a 20% rise in insurance claims on electronic equipment during the time of highest geomagnetic activity over 10 years seems to me to be almost everything but actual, rigorous proof.

I would go so far as to say that you are just being difficult due to the fact that you recently got schooled on the difference between causation and correlation. Now you feel the need to take down a scientific study using your new awesomeness,

I would go there but we all already know the sadness that is a pedantic AC.

Re:Buy Surge Protectors (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47431661)

Since about 1985 the voltage in the US has been regulated by the government. I worked for the power company when it happened. Automatic voltage regulators got installed everywhere. FYI Single phase 120 and 240 volt AC is held to +/- 5%. If yours is outside that range call the power company.

Re:Buy Surge Protectors (1)

simstick (303379) | about two weeks ago | (#47435545)

I live in the country and installed GFI breakers at the main panel and on most every outlet plus the normal surge protector for the computers et.. and noticed that using them double like that they pop like crazy ahead of major storms so I am assuming they are sensing flux on the lines and using two inline causes the first to trip quicker than it normally might.

Re:Buy Surge Protectors (1)

Virtucon (127420) | about two weeks ago | (#47436479)

Well most "country" wiring I've experienced has multiple problems. Mostly from old, unmaintained wiring and transformers but it sounds like you've got enough of that already. While most storms will cause havoc, just the utility not giving a shit will probably cause most of the failures inside a home.

wmd on credit cowards gadget dependant (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47431413)

gizmology addiction could change completely in the wink of an eye? greed fear ego based crown royals lack spirit, the main ingredient of life

Tablets? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47431445)

Geomagnetic storms induce very slow changes (over minutes to several hours) in the magnetic field, hence the induced voltage in electrical circuits is very small unless you have very large loops in the circuits (large, as in miles). A tablet is not going pick up any significant voltage, and would have more induced electric currents by setting on top of an extension cord, or attaching a cover that uses a permanent magnet... or walking by a fridge. There is a small chance maybe something happens if it was plugged in, but today most electronics use a switching power supply that can hand a decent range of voltages, and the mains voltage would have to go way out of spec, and then most likely only damage the power supply. And a lot of those power supplies can work at dual voltage, so if you are on a 110 service, you would need it to spike over 220 V to do damage.

Re:Tablets? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47431713)

Just to go along with what you said, the PSU on my computer is rated for 80v-250v and 50hz-60hz. Going to need a spike greater than 250v to cause damage or a very quick spike. Many switched PSUs switch over 1mil times per second and will quickly adapt to an increased voltage up to their limit.

Re:Tablets? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47434621)

Spike greater than 250v is not enough to cause any damage if it is very short, unless it is much much more powerful than required limits. I cannot imagine that 251v would cause any damage in such a case, so, generally speaking, you are grossly incorrect and probably have little understanding of things you are talking about.

Re:Tablets? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47434735)

Fast spikes will capacitive couple to places that lower frequency stuff won't... that 50 kHz switching supply that is normally isolated by a transformer can cause problems if a microsecond timescale pulse capacitive couples to the low voltage side of the transformer. Also sucks if there is a resonance close to that timescale that is supposed to be well above operating point. So what the previous AC said was correct... you need some spike larger than 250 V (didn't say it needed to be 251, just that that is a lower bound) unless it is fast enough to cause different kinds of problems.

Re:Tablets? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47431951)

Let's add some numbers to this. The Carrington Event had a peak change in magnetic field of about 1.5 microteslas. Suppose your table for some reason was 30 cm square and had a hundred turns of wire inside it around the perimeter, giving a total effective area of 9 square meters. In order for that 1.5 microtesla field to induce 1 V in the loop, the magnetic field change would need to happen in about 15 microseconds.... the actual change took hours. Even if it happened in a minute, the induced voltage would be 0.2 microvolts, still assuming your tablet had a huge coil of wire in it. (As opposed to say a 100 mile square loop, because you are looking at ground currents or an distribution system with unusual return path, you would get 600 V then...)

Industry being destroyed! (1)

Lumpy (12016) | about two weeks ago | (#47431453)

"they calculate that the economic impact of geomagnetic damage must amount to several billion dollars per year."

We can not tolerate this economic disaster hitting the very low profit insurance industry! WE shoud act and demand congress solve this issue by blowing up the SUN to eliminate these solar geomagnetic storms.

Re:Industry being destroyed! (2)

Himmy32 (650060) | about two weeks ago | (#47431499)

I say we launch a spaceship with a team of oil drillers to place nukes on it.

Re:Industry being destroyed! (2)

deroby (568773) | about two weeks ago | (#47432003)

Absolutely, and if they fly by night they don't even have to worry about the heat!

Re: Industry being destroyed! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47435063)

OK, but no fracking!

Obligatory (2)

Sqr(twg) (2126054) | about two weeks ago | (#47431497)

xkcd [xkcd.com]

What to truly question (2)

geekmux (1040042) | about two weeks ago | (#47431513)

"That raises the question of the impact these storms have on household electronic equipment, such as computers, smartphones and tablets...

When searching for examples of electronics that may have been damaged over their useful life by external forces, perhaps you shouldn't pick the things manufacturers have deemed as disposable equipment these days.

How else are they going to sell you the new model 12 months after you bought the "new" model...

Re:What to truly question (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47431631)

correction: 12 months and 1 day (just past the warranty)

Time to apply science (4, Informative)

Technician (215283) | about two weeks ago | (#47431519)

Time to apply science to the problem. What is known, what values are involved, and what breaks down.

Long distance transmission lines have two problems when there is a relatively high atmospheric current. They are long conductors feeding transformers that are not designed to shunt large components of DC resulting in core saturation and high current. This is measurable. The first effect noticed was by the railroad when telegraph relays activated and sometimes burned out.

The voltage induced current has two components. 1 Some current was due to the current directly into the long wire. 2 Some current was due to ground potential changing due to high current in the ground.

How to protect? For ground potential issues, simple pairs of wires provide high common mode rejection. This is common with telephone circuits as protection from induced hum and noise from a noisy electrical environment. Overvoltage protection in the form of lightning arresters is the second protection. Most phone loops are relatively short reducing the ground voltage gradient problem to non existant levels. Long distance hops are by Microwave Relay or Fiber Optic, both providing protection from ground gradients and long pick up paths.

Shrink the scale to inside a home by comparison. All internal house wireing is orders of magnatude shorter than transmission lines, CATV, and phone lines. Small DC capible antennas result in very low current if exposed. The home is generally protected by gutters on the eves, mildly conductive building materials such as wood, brick, etc that are not insulated to very low leakage at high voltages such as the insulatin on transmission lines. Net result is the very small currents are shunted by the building itself. Go up on the roof during a geo storm and see if you have any static electricity issues. Probably not.

For homeowners, this is a non issue due to the lack of an effective gathering surface properly insulated to collect enough current to cause any damage. The collector is too small and the leakage path to ground is too high.

time to apply conscious conscience (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47431563)

all juiced up & ready to blow http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=wmd+weather on course to fire all of our guns at once & explode into space? creation remains in a tailspin over our negligence re; each other? electric shorts are the least of our spiritual bankruptcy obligations? see you there

Re:Time to apply science (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47431777)

1 Some current was due to the current directly into the long wire

Actual current flowing into the wire is trivial compared to any induced current from the changing magnetic field. It wouldn't matter if they were insulated or buried, etc, all that matters is the area of the circuit and the time rate change of magnetic field through that area. At least buried lines with ground return through the actual ground tend to have small area between them and the ground.

few billion divided by a few million users (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | about two weeks ago | (#47431557)

Is peanuts, nobody's going to care.

Re:few billion divided by a few million users (1)

Carewolf (581105) | about two weeks ago | (#47436835)

Yeah who cares about thousands of dollars (US billion/million).

Is this news? (4, Interesting)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about two weeks ago | (#47431579)

I thought it was common knowledge, ask any admin of a network with 100ft+ lines running between buildings. The gear connected to them often fries when solar flares hit. Sometimes it happens so reliably that they have a procedure to disconnect the lines when a solar flare is coming.

Re:Is this news? (0)

dAzED1 (33635) | about two weeks ago | (#47431647)

solar flares != geomagnetic storm. solar flares /cause/ geomagnetic storms, but the storms can persist past the incident of the flare. At least, according to my understanding...

Re:Is this news? (2)

danlip (737336) | about two weeks ago | (#47431895)

Solar flares are associated with coronal mass ejections, and CMEs cause geomagnetic storms if they hit the earth. Travel time is about 3-4 days days, but can be as little as 18 hours (as was the case in the 1859 Carrington event).

Re:Is this news? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47431859)

Fiber please?

Re:Is this news? (2)

Technician (215283) | about two weeks ago | (#47435437)

The elevated lines between buildings are rarely protected from a build up of a static charge as routers and bridges were not built with this in mind. On the physical layer, both ends of the wire are terminated into an isolation transformer with no discharge path to ground. This is an installation design fault against the guy that designed the installation. Lightning protection is often a gas discharge tube for a lower breakdown voltage. A high current discharge through a protection device can produce a relatively high ESD pulse through the transformer into the tranciever chip resulting in corrupt data to failures. A link between buildings must include a bleed discharge path to prevent the build up of voltage on the wire, or a shielded wire with grounded shield should be used.

Engineers design systems. A good technician can make them work.

Re:Is this news? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47436609)

The elevated lines between buildings are rarely protected from a build up of a static charge as routers and bridges were not built with this in mind.

If the parent poster was correct that there was a connection to a geomagnetic storm, then this would have no relevance as the problem would not be from static buildup, but from a magnetic induced voltage. If anything, additional path(s) to ground could make that actually worse depending on positioning, but even without there wouldn't be any buildup of charge (unless there were a diode or corrosion acting like a diode in the line...) because it is an AC effect that goes away when the storm goes away.

Re:Is this news? (1)

Technician (215283) | about two weeks ago | (#47436823)

Charged particles are not magnetic. The electric current caused by the electric current creates a magnetic field. Basic electrical magnetic property. There is a magnetic field because there is an electric current traveling through the atmosphere which does impose an electric charge on suspended insulated objects in addition to the induced electric current in conductors on and in the ground.

The amount of induced current is directly related to the rate of flux change producing an AC current provided one end of the conductor is grounded. At the low currents and large area of very long lines, this AC component is relatively low in relation to the DC current brought in at the poles seperated by our earth's magnetic field. A static magnetic field does not induce a current. A steady DC current does build high currents in long suspended conductors.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E... [wikipedia.org]

Even high voltage transmission lines are now protected by adding a resistor to the center tap of a 3 phase transformer to ground to limit induced current. The transformers already MUST have a ground refrence already due to the DC charging of the lines that would happen if there were no ground. This is why transmission lines never use Delta transformer to Delta transformer. One or both ends of a transmission line have a substation with a Y connection with the center tap grounded.

I know of one BPA line that is Delta to Delta, but in addition to this there is a 3 phase Y transformer to nowhere that only porvides the required ground for the line.

Grounding both ends with a low impedance ground is good for lightning strike protection, but bad in a geomagnetic storm. Ungrounded is bad for line charging and lightning protection. UTP network cable is ungrounded at both ends and are subject to high voltage charging in short lengths.
http://www.solarsystemcentral.... [solarsystemcentral.com]

Re:Is this news? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47438355)

I can't tell if you don't understand the material and are just splicing together bits and pieces without understanding, or if you just are not writing things well...

The amount of induced current is directly related to the rate of flux change producing an AC current provided one end of the conductor is grounded. At the low currents and large area of very long lines, this AC component is relatively low in relation to the DC current brought in at the poles seperated by our earth's magnetic field. A static magnetic field does not induce a current. A steady DC current does build high currents in long suspended conductors.

Yes, a changing magnetic field induces a voltage in proportion to rate change of magnetic field... that is what a magnetic induced voltage is as referred to in the previous comment. A geomagnetic storm is definitely not DC, but includes a small change in magnetic field over a very wide area. For equipment designed to handle 50/60 Hz, it looks like DC, but the basic effect is not DC. Over large areas, small changes in magnetic field can induce 100s to 1000s of volts of difference in the ground, and the impact on this is directly seen in electrical systems. It is especially clear that it is an magnetic induction issue, because places with the biggest problem with geomagnetic storms are those with higher resistance grounds (e.g. Canadian shield) that result in more current in good conductors like power distribution systems due to the reactive currents in the ground being smaller.

This has nothing to do with currents flowing through the air, as the currents from a solar storm travel along field lines in the magnetosphere, and either complete their circuit through the ionosphere (e.g. the E layer) or through other field lines in the magnetosphere. The currents that create things like the aurora and are measured by polar crossing satellites doesn't reach below the ionosphere. Plain earth weather can create large vertical electric fields and things like St. Elmo's fire in extreme cases, but does far less to induce any current in mostly horizontal power lines (except during lightning strikes...). The types of current densities that would be needed to compete with magnetically induced current would cause the air to light up at ground level... unlike the aurora that are several 10s of km high.

Re:Is this news? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47436951)

Sorry, I don't believe you. Common knowledge is another word for unsubstantiated bullshit, or urban legend.

Wrap Your Equipment in Tinfoil! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47431589)

All of it! Multiple layers!

Cover windows with tinfoil, too!

Don't forget your tinfoil hat!

Re:Wrap Your Equipment in Tinfoil! (1)

Joe Gillian (3683399) | about two weeks ago | (#47431611)

But wait, wouldn't that make me MORE vulnerable to the mind-control radio waves being sent out by the Lizard People? I don't know if protecting my equipment from voltages is worth the risk.

Line Conditioning (1)

jraff2 (2828801) | about two weeks ago | (#47431603)

Power conditioners may handle more issues, but surge protectors will probably be enough protection to limit the actual damage from geomagnetic storm since brown outs usually do not cause major damage. Yeah I know low voltage over a while can cause considerable damage to some equipment. Maybe a low voltage cut off would help with brown outs. So one either needs surge protectors with expensive coils and caps in addition to the a $0.29 MOV. Now are they needed for the whole house or just the expensive and delicate computer and TVs?

throw some light on the issue? (1)

dAzED1 (33635) | about two weeks ago | (#47431625)

Isn't that what caused the problem in the first place, someone (in this case, the sun) throwing some light (in this case, a solar flare) on the subject (in this case, Earth's magnetic field)? Fighting fire with fire only goes so far, people...

Solar activity (5, Interesting)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about two weeks ago | (#47431709)

I confirmed the effect of solar activity countrywide myself a few years ago...
I used to work in the NOC (Network operations center) for a major Telco. The job is pretty strait forward, there's an application that gets alerts from a vast and very diverse set of equipment all across the country and displays "alarms" when they are having problems. There are always alarms, but many are transient and a lot of the equipment will fix itself. Your job is to know what's bad, how bad it is and how to intervene if you need to. A remote in the backwoods of Georgia has a fire alarm... Call the fire department who will break down the door, hose down the equipment and put 10,000 people out of service for a week? Or notice that the same remote has a minor fan alarm thats not on your display because of the severity and know that what really is going on is the fan burned up and you can just send a field tech to replace it.

Anyways, that jobs a lot like war. Long periods of boredom punctuated by brief periods of terror. 100k people without 911 service wares at you. But in the slow times it's really boring so I was surfing one day and found this:
http://spaceweather.com/ [spaceweather.com]
It's a NASA website that shows the activity in space around the sun/earth. You can even download spreadsheets of past data.
This got me thinking so I exported alarm activity on the millions of pieces of equipment I watched for the same time period.
At first it didn't match up, but then I remembered there are local causes to. So I found some data on electrical storms and subtracted that...
Tada! I had a perfect graph showing the rise and fall of solar activity that matched nicely with my alarm activity. There were a few anomalies, but I'm not scientist. I could see that the effect was more negligible on our fiber networks, but still there. I attributed this to power fluctuations.

Excited I ran into my bosses office and told him to look at my charts. He said "That's fantastic! Good work! Really interesting! But useless I'm sad to say..."
I was baffled...
"Do you want me to block out the sun? This really is neat, but that's about it. We can't do anything about it."
I thought about it and finally agreed. It's is neat, but also unavoidable. At best we could use it to put more techs on staff on certain days, but that would be about it. And the fact is, there's ALWAYS someone on call... so, though being interesting, it's also irrelevant. About the most interesting part was that fiber made the issue go away... but we already knew fiber was better in just about all cases. This was just more proof.

Re:Solar activity (2)

oneiros27 (46144) | about two weeks ago | (#47431835)

The guy who runs the website works for NASA, but I'm fairly certain that it's a side project, and not a NASA-funded website. (if it was, they'd have NASA logos on it, and not ads)

Solar Monitor [solarmonitor.org] used to be hosted by NASA, but it's currently at Trinity College, Dublin.

NASA funded projects would include Helioviewer (also ESA funded) and ISWA [nasa.gov]

However ... there was something a couple of years back and now NASA's not allowed to provide space weather predictions to the public ... so you have to get forecast information from NOAA's SWPC [noaa.gov]

Solar activity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47432973)

Of course, you can forget all about the "activity in the space around the sun/earth", unless you're a satellite operator that's got absolutely nothing to do with anything. It's the planetary K index http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/alerts/k-index.html you want. Also, which a nice story, a) That fan that burned up probably started a fire that's just reaching the emergency generators... b) In the vein of your long story about knowing what's important, that correlation is actually very useful for determining what's transient flukes that are likely to fix themselves and what's not. The ability to provision support and spares for those periods isn't meaningless, either.

Re: Solar activity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47435125)

You could design or purchase equipment that is more resistant to the problem.

Re:Solar activity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47436367)

http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/alerts/warnings_timeline.html [noaa.gov] Prepare for increased risk of funny things to happen as the storm strength goes over G2 or G3. The 2003 G5 storm increased my systems internal 12V voltage to 14V, spiking exactly at the time the storm hit the measurement stations nearly the other side of the world.

Re:Solar activity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47436595)

he 2003 G5 storm increased my systems internal 12V voltage to 14V, spiking exactly at the time the storm hit the measurement stations nearly the other side of the world.

Do you mean your computer power supply voltage? That wasn't directly induced in the computer itself, as for something the size of a typical computer case you would need literally billions of loops of wire to get a couple volts induced from a ~300 nT change over a time scales of an hour. And if it came in from the mains, you must have an incredibly bad power supply to cause that much change, yet not have problems with things like light bulbs exploding...

Re:Solar activity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47440355)

It was an incredibly shitty power supply fortunately long gone. :) The global timing of the effect was impressively accurate though.

And the other 80%? (1)

edibobb (113989) | about two weeks ago | (#47431863)

So now, whenever there is a large CME, anybody who has an electronics failure can file an insurance claim even though there's an 80% chance it was an ordinary failure. Insurance companies will naturally respond with and exclusion for CME damage. It's not a problem now, but in 5 billion years when the sun expands beyond Earth's orbit there will be nobody to pay for all our failed electronics.

Re:And the other 80%? (1)

Neil Boekend (1854906) | about two weeks ago | (#47447537)

Is it really a CME when earth is orbiting inside the sun?

Some Background (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47431947)

Space Weather [tikalon.com] .

Flawed study (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47431971)

This study assumes that people file the claim on the day the device malfunctions. That is an assumption. There could be other causes.

So what can we do? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47432569)

What can humans do to reduce the frequency and severity of these geomagnetic storms? Surely they are being caused by human activity, so what are we to do?

the answer to the question is "none" (1)

sribe (304414) | about two weeks ago | (#47434561)

Switching power supplies actually provide decent protection against moderate surges. You want to find things damaged by this kind of incident? You'd want to check claims for all the things in your house that contain *motors* which run on line voltage: washer, dryer, refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher, etc. Your computer etc can take an extra 50 volts basically forever, but motors cannot. (Also, heating elements will tend to burn out. An extra 20 volts will make your wife go through blow dryers at a prodigious rate--it's true, you can take my personal word for that!)

And how much of the equipment... (1)

MatthiasF (1853064) | about two weeks ago | (#47436481)

How much of the equipment was actually faulty?

If the news tells them there's a major solar storm that can destroy electronics, how much of these insurance claims are simply people seeking a free upgrade for a old, working piece of equipment?

You will notice that on the worst days, there were not significantly more claims; just that on significant solar days they were more claims probably because those days got into world news.

Or insurance companies themselves only allow such claims during certain periods around such reported days.
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