When I tell people that one of my research interests include space weather, people often reply with, “Wait, there’s weather in space?”
Space weather may seem like a “far out” phenomena that only astronauts could experience, but in reality, the impacts are insanely critical to all modernized technology here on Earth.
Take a few seconds and imagine life if there was a major power grid failure on the entire East coast of the U.S . In an instant, people from New York City, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., etc. are unable to use the infrastructure they have become so heavily reliant on.
THE IMPACT: With little to no warning, the electricity that runs every day necessities such as banks, gas stations, trains, charging devices, heating/cooling, grocery store cash registers, etc. would have an interruption in services during a large space weather event. Now, imagine there is no estimate of when these services will return, how large the impacts are, or a plan for restoration. In a digital world, this situation would leave most people in a state of despair. Do you care about space weather yet?
THE SCIENCE: Space weather is driven by variability of the sun. Current Sun
When the sun hurls some of its high-energy towards Earth, interactions with the Earth’s magnetic field causes the infrastructure essential to our modern world to become vulnerable.
During some solar events, the GPS we so heavily rely on could malfunction, or, the plane we depend on to get us somewhere on time has to be re-routed. In the most severe cases of Earth-ward solar emissions, electrical power failure could arise affecting national security, economy, and human life. While the Space Weather Prediction Center provides excellent forecasts for potential hazards, there remain limitations of prediction capability, as it is in its infancy.
Action has been taken under the Obama Administration in coordination with the Space Weather Prediction Center and many others to construct a plan in such an event. In October 2016, former President Obama signed an Executive Order (Space Wx EO) to coordinate and facilitate among the proper agencies in the event of a large solar-induced magnetic field disturbance on Earth (Space Wx EO Blog ). Many U.S. agencies research and forecast space weather (e.g., NASA, NOAA, USGS, U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory) in an effort towards improving the understanding, prediction, and response to space weather events.
Coronal Mass Ejection video – “Halloween Storm” 2003