This is not an article about a future movie plot. It would seem that as we become more and more aware about the universe we only just start to understand just how little we actually know about what could happen in the vast emptiness of space. The White House’s National Science and Technology Council seem to understand this as they have released their strategic plan for “extreme space weather events” that could potentially disable or even destroy spacecraft and satellites.
Two terms that will be used a lot in this article are Solar Wind and Earth’s magnetic field. The former, Solar wind, is the term used to describe particles that the sun admits on an almost regular basis. While the latter, the Earth’s magnetic field, is a natural field that is generated around the earth (your compass uses it to help point you to north). The magnetic field normally acts as a protective barrier and stops the solar winds from breaching into the atmosphere.
With estimates of $2 trillion in damages for a single ‘monster’ surge, ten times more than any other natural disaster in recorded history, and a 12% chance given by NASA that one could happen within the next decade, it would seem that preparing for this event is just one of the many things we should be looking at.
There are three stages to any disaster, and it would seem that we are starting to work on all of them for this particular scenario.
The first stage is knowing when it might happen, for this we have the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Centre who monitors the sun for any signs that something abnormal, like a ‘monster’ solar wave, could be emitted. With an estimated window of only 15-60 minutes to act, the likely hood of being able to act effectively comes from preparation more than reflection on the information given.