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SPACE WEATHER INTRO — PART 2

Introduction

We at Plan Your Future Now support the premise . . .

“Search, Learn, & Enjoy!”


A great way to learn, for example, is to select a topic you find interesting—such as Space Weather—and then begin searching the net.

You may find yourself spending hours searching before you find the right material; however, it is certainly worth the effort in our opinion!

If you find that the net does not supply your need, look-up the address to your local library and search there; regardless, searching equates to learning, and one must maintain a heightened spirit for ongoing education in order to stay abreast of all that is affecting each and every one of us in today's world.

Space Weather?

Space weather is akin to weather on Earth in the sense that it exists and, at times, can "kick up" minor to major storms.

Storms such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and cyclones are rated according to intensity; space weather storms are also rated by intensity.

'Wind' on Earth is monitored and identified; for example, we can have 'wind shear', referring to to any change in wind speed or direction along a straight line; or a 'microburst', "a very localized column of sinking air, producing damaging divergent and straight-line winds at the surface that are similar to, but distinguishable from, tornadoes, which generally have convergent [tending to move toward one point or to approach each other] damage."1

The following is an artist's illustration of a 'microburst':


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Illustration courtesty NASA

Solar Wind

Solar wind, "a stream of electrically charged particles flowing constantly out from the sun in all directions"2 plays a key role in space storms; for instance, "the wind's particles are accelerated by the sun's magnetic fields, and the configuration of the magnetic fields can influence how fast the solar wind is going when it rushes out into space."3

Solar wind is not uniform. "Magnetic Clouds are produced in the solar wind when solar eruptions (flares and coronal mass ejections) carry material off of the Sun along with embedded magnetic fields. These magnetic clouds can be detected in the solar wind through observations of the solar wind characteristics — wind speed, density, and magnetic field strength and direction."4

The solar wind "streams off of the Sun in all directions at speeds of about 400 kilometers/second (about 1 million miles per hour)."5

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company, defines solar wind as:

  • "A continuous stream of plasma ejected by the Sun, flowing outward from the corona.
  • This plasma, which consists mostly of protons and electrons, has enough energy to escape the Sun's gravitational field at speeds ranging from about 300 to 800 km (186 to 496 mi) per second and averaging 1,610,000 km (1,000,000 mi) per hour.
  • The speed and intensity of the solar wind depends on magnetic activity at different regions of the Sun.
  • The solar wind spreads out from the Sun in a pinwheel pattern as a result of the Sun's rotation."6

Earth's Magnetic Field

Earth's magnetic field (magnetosphere) protects us from the severe effects of solar wind. The following illustration from NASA depicts this:

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Illustration courtesty NASA

Solar Storms

Solar wind in form of solar storms can wreak havoc on Earth—particulary with satellite communication, radio waves, and power grids.

In fact, the past few years has seen numerous headlines touting the potential dangers related to space weather; for example:

These are but a few of the many stories published over the past few years! To read a story that catches your interest, simply click on its title. The idea from these stories is clear though:

Space weather does indeed play an important role in today's world!

A Prime Example

On March 13, 1989, a severe solar storm caused an electrical power blackout in the Québec, Canada region, resulting in a damaged high-voltage transformer owned by Hydro-Québec Power Authority, a government-owned corporation which generates, transmits and distributes electricity throughout Québec. The blackout affected more than 5 million people and cost more than 2 billion dollars to repair (1989 dollar values).

The following picture depicts a close-up view of part of a transformer that was damaged as a direct result of space weather.

The transformer overheated during the severe storm and caught fire—due to electrical ground currents created by the storm. YIKES! Say goodbye to the power-grid and hello to widespread darkness!


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Image courtesy of Public Service Electric and Gas and Peter Balma

Goddard Media Studios — Space Weather Gallery by NASA

Goddard Media Studios — NASA is an amazing site dedicated to space galleries.

Now . . . let's take a little tour into the realm of:

NASA's Space Weather Introductory Videos

Back to Space Weather
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