Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Reaching Solar Max

Astronomers have observed some exceptionally powerful solar flares recently.  That's not surprising, as the Sun should reach the peak in its 11-year activity cycle later this year.  It is worrisome, however.  Modern society is dependent upon information exchange networks that rely on electricity.  A powerful solar electromagnetic event that happened to be aimed at Earth could disrupt such networks for days, weeks, or longer, throwing us back a century or two, at least.  When American politicians talk about rebuilding the nation's infrastructure, they generally include upgrading the electric power grid, and they should.  We are currently dancing along a very dangerous edge.

Luckily, astronomers think this year's solar max will be relatively weak, so we may have another few years to get our grid together.

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