NASA, NOAA, and the Air Force are working to launch the DSCOVR
satellite (above) for launch in 2014 to monitor solar conditions,
repurposing a spacecraft first planned 15 years ago.
(credit: NASA)

Storm preparations

by Jeff Foust
Monday, January 7, 2013

There’s good news and bad news on the space weather front. The bad news, for those concerned about the impact severe space weather can have on the Earth, is that the Sun has been active of late, with a series of flares in recent days. These have been too weak to have any significant effect, but serve as a reminder that the Sun is approaching “solar max,” the peak of its 11-year activity cycle, with a greater chance of more, and more severe, solar storms in the months to come.

The good news, though, is that this upcoming solar max appears to be relatively weak. An updated solar cycle prediction released last week by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center concludes that solar activity, as measured by sunspots, will peak this fall, but at the lowest level in over a century. While severe solar storms can still take place regardless of the amount of activity, the prediction indicates that the Sun will be less active in this upcoming peak than previous ones.

If that prediction works out, then we may have, at least temporarily, dodged a bullet. While the Sun is not producing more, or more severe, solar storms, the consequences of these storms are becoming more significant as society becomes increasingly dependent on technologies, from satellites to the electrical grid, that can be disrupted by a major storm. And there remain nagging concerns, particularly in the US, that we are not ready to predict or plan for such events.

Read more: The Space Review: Storm preparations.

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