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In 1989 a powerful solar storm emitted an explosive burst of charged particles that struck the Earth and caused blackouts across the entire province of Quebec, leaving millions without power. In 1859 a similar storm hit us, but on a planet wide scale. The effects of such a phenomena occurring in the modern world with our over dependence on computers and electronic systems, could be devastating beyond imagining.
Two new satellites are set to be launched that would help to prepare us in the case that such a geomagnetic storm heads in our direction.
The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) will be positioned at the Sun-Earth L1 Lagrange point (the exact point between the Earth and the Sun where the net gravitational force on an object is zero.), about 1.5 million kilometres away.
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Set for launch next year, the DSCOVR will replace the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satellite, and measure the vector of solar winds.
The Sunjammer space ship will fly more than a million kilometres closer to the sun than the L1 point, using its 0.1 hectare solar sail, powered by photons emitted from the sun. It will then provide the basis for an early warning space-weather system.
If all goes according to plan, the detailed, direct observations made of the sun would enable an accurate analysis of the magnetic field headed towards the Earth, giving a position and time for the arrival of the storm, and which electrical grid would be most at risk. This system should give grid operators several days to prepare, whereas today’s forecasts only provide a 30-45 minute warning.
By. Joao Peixe of Oilprice.com
Joao is a writer for Oilprice.com