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Midwest US Faces Greatest Risk Of Space Storms: Power Grid Could Crash

Midwest US Faces Greatest Risk Of Space Storms: Power Grid Could Crash

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First Posted: Sep 21, 2016 04:51 AM EDT
Solar Flare
On August 31, 2012 a long prominence/filament of solar material that had been hovering in the Sun's atmosphere, the corona, erupted out into space at 4:36 p.m. EDT. Seen here from the Solar Dynamics Observatory, the flare caused an aurora on Earth on September 3. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0

In the US, power failures and blackouts are usually caused by hurricanes in the southeast region, and ice storms in the northeastern area. A new study now suggests that upper Midwest US can have its own reason for blackouts - space storms a.k.a geomagnetic storms. 

According to scientists, Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, in particular, can face electrical current surges 100 times more powerful than the rest of US. Incidentally, space storms that comprise of charged particles from the sun, which crash on our planet, can make electrical currents surge along power lines, which can melt transformers and trigger blackouts.

The Carrington Event, which took place in 1859, fried telegraph lines across North America and Europe, and also gave shock and burned some of the telegraph operators. The event was caused by a massive burst of plasma from the sun that collided with our planet. The result was the induction of electric current that flew through telegraph cables instead of coursing through rock. In today's world, telegraph cables have been replaced by electrical power grids, but the threat from space storm remains the same for them. If such an event were to take place in present times, the loss would amount to $2 trillion, as per a report.

Researchers have recently created a geoelectric hazard map, the first of its kind for large areas Published in Geophysical Review Letters, the map is based on data drawn from the two most important aspects that determine and influence the strength of space storms - conductivity of our planet's crust and likely interaction of earth's magnetic field with space weather.

One of the aims of mailing the map was to help power companies prepare for a geological storm's inevitable effect. At the moment, organizations like National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) do provide advance forecasts of incoming storms and space weather, however as per scientists more can be done for the same. "I think everyone in the field recognizes the importance of looking at this problem and trying to resolve it as soon as possible," said Chigomezyo Ngwira, a space physicist at Washington D.C.'s Catholic University of America.

It should be noted that though the new map has mentioned the upper edge of the Midwest, in particular, Wisconsin and Minnesota, as vulnerable areas, all of US has not been surveyed yet for conductivity. Furthermore, the data could also help power companies in protecting the grids of major cities like New York and Boston, among others.

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