The White House is Prepping for the Most Violent Space Weather Imaginable

The sun emitting potentially dangerous solar flares. // NASA



In November, the White House’s National Science and Technology Council released its National Space Weather Action Plan outlining how the federal government might respond to a solar storm, the term used to describe varying bursts of energy released by the sun.

According to researchers, an extreme enough solar storm could cripple the world’s electronic and satellite systems, potentially causing financial damages tallying over $2 trillion.

Comparatively, the most expensive natural disaster to date was an earthquake in Japan in 2011 – the quake that also caused the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plan to fail – that cost approximately $230 billion.

“These critical infrastructures make up a diverse, complex, interdependent system of systems in which a failure of one could cascade to another,” the report states. “Given the importance of reliable electric power and space-based assets, it is essential that the United States has the ability to protect, mitigate, respond to and recover from the potentially devastating effects of space weather.”s

The plan relies heavily on data NOAA collects from two satellites located 1 million miles away from Earth that act much like an early warning system, relaying data back to scientists on Earth when they detect a solar storm.

The first, the Advanced Composition Explorer, is actually 17 years old and will be phased out and replaced by the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite, or DSCOVR, very soon.

DSCOVR is a refrigerator-sized spacecraft launched in February that will give scientists up to an hour’s notice of extreme solar weather, providing higher-quality measurements of solar magnetic storms and solar wind data than ACE.

In October, NOAA took control of DSCOVR from NASA, which launched the satellite, and is optimizing the satellite before it becomes fully operational. The NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center, which continuously monitors the sun, factors into the action plan as well, providing the initial notification that a solar flare or storm occurs.

That initial warning allows up to a 15-hour window to prepare the Earth’s communication, power and satellite systems in the event of a serious solar storm.

Full article: The White House is Prepping for the Most Violent Space Weather Imaginable (NextGov)

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