Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan

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What’s the Worst that can Happen? Space Weather Impacts in 2012

Posted: August 27, 2010

What’s the Worst that can Happen? Space Weather Impacts in 2012 Download File(s): mmoldwin_solar_essay.pdf

An essay written by Mark B. Moldwin, Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences, University of Michigan, and published in Volume 1, Issue 2 of The Coronal Courant, for the Solar Physics Division of the American Astronomical Society

“The field of space weather studies the technological and societal impacts of the solar terrestrial relationship. This emerging field of space science has become increasingly important due to modern society’s dependence on global communication systems and continental scale power distribution systems. Solar storms (such as coronal mass ejections and solar flares) can cause geomagnetic impacts that can damage or destroy satellites, perturb satellite communication and navigation systems, sicken or kill astronauts and cause power blackouts.

“Though the current solar minimum is unprecedented in the space age in terms of its low solar activity and subsequent low geomagnetic activity, the forecast is for solar maximum to arrive in a few years… The most intense geomagnetic storm ever measured occurred in 1859 and is often called the Carrington Event… The space weather effects of the 1859 Carrington storm included disruption of telegraph signals, observation of aurora at mid and even tropical latitudes and geomagnetic deflections of over 2000 nT.

Mark Moldwin “What would happen if a solar storm of this magnitude (or other large storms observed in the pre-space age era) hit Earth today? This essay concentrates on the possible impact on the electric distribution system since this effect could be the worst natural disaster in modern history with costs estimated over a trillion US dollars and impacts reaching across every industry and every segment of society.”

Download full essay [PDF]

Read full essay in The Coronal Courant (available for a short time)

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