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Power Companies Brace For Solar Storms

timothy posted about 3 years ago | from the but-the-ice-cream-is-dripping-everywhere dept.

Communications 111

Hugh Pickens writes "Three large explosions from the sun over the past few days have prompted U.S. government scientists to caution users of satellite, telecommunications and electric equipment to prepare for possible disruptions over the next few days that could affect communications and GPS satellites, leave thousands without power for weeks to months, and might even produce an aurora visible as far south as Minnesota and Wisconsin. 'The concern is if the electric grid lost a number of transformers during a single storm, replacing them would be difficult and time-consuming,' says Rich Lordan, senior technical executive for power delivery and utilization at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). The largest solar storm in recorded history was in 1859, when communications infrastructure was limited to telegraphs. Some telegraph operators reported electric shocks, papers caught fire, and the Northern Lights appeared as far south as Cuba and Hawaii. The first of the three solar explosions from the sun already passed the Earth on Thursday with little impact and the second is passing the Earth now and 'seems to be stronger.' "We'll have to see what happens over the next few days," says space weather scientist Joseph Kunches. '[The third storm] could exacerbate the disturbance in the Earth's magnetic field caused by the second (storm) or do nothing at all.'"

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Knowing (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37020642)

EE

Re:Knowing (1)

geminidomino (614729) | about 3 years ago | (#37022832)

That was my first thought, too.

What a fucking depressing movie.

On topic (1)

fyngyrz (762201) | about 3 years ago | (#37024938)

I got a decent shot of the aurora [flickr.com] resulting from the CMEs here in Montana early Saturday morning. I've collected my aurora shots here [flickr.com] .

I have to say that although this was (visually) a moderately strong event, it wasn't even close to some of the auroral storms of the 90's. The power in the auroral oval [flickr.com] wasn't very high, either.

Excuse (3, Funny)

DarkOx (621550) | about 3 years ago | (#37020646)

Reads like something from the Bastard Operator From Hell's excuse calendar

Re:Excuse (3, Interesting)

oneiros27 (46144) | about 3 years ago | (#37022060)

Technically, yes, it was:

It's friday, so I get into work early, before lunch even. The phone rings. Shit!

I turn the page on the excuse sheet. "SOLAR FLARES" stares out at me. I'd better read up on that. Two minutes later I'm ready to answer the phone.

"Hello?" I say.

"WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN, I'VE BEEN TRYING TO GET YOU ALL MORNING?!"

I hate it when they shout at me early in the morning. It always puts me in a bad mood. You know what I mean.

"Ah, yes. Well, there's been some solar activity this morning, it always disrupts electronics..." I say, sweet as a sugar pie.

"Huh? But I could get through to my friends?!"

"Yes, that's entirely possible, solar activity is very unpredictable in it's effects. Why last week, we had some files just dissappear from a guys account while he was working on it!"

"Really?"

"Straight Up! Hey, do you want me to check your account?"

"Yes please, I've got some important stuff in there!"

"Ok, what's your username..."

He tells me. Honestly, it's like shooting a fish in a barrel. Twice. With an Elephant Gun. At point blank range. In the head.

Unfortunately, the excuse doesn't work when your boss also reads BOFH, is a solar physicist, and the project scientist for three the satellites mentioned in these articles.

Re:Excuse (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37022830)

Unfortunately, the excuse doesn't work when your boss also reads BOFH, is a solar physicist, and the project scientist for three the satellites mentioned in these articles.

It's cattle prod time, then!

Re:Excuse (1)

camperslo (704715) | about 3 years ago | (#37024544)

Just as the Japanese government is buying up beef that grew from rice straw with a little something extra sprinkled on it? Prodding those cows may trigger an unexpected reaction...

Could solar flares generate a new isotope of cesium? Can tablets be used to allow the masses to produce modern versions of those 50's B movies? Giant ants, crabs, mantis, possessed bulldozers, the blob... solar storms and an atomic mishap, the stuff classic B movie sci-fi can be made of. Will it all trigger something new in genetically engineered crops? Will the pads become self aware? Haven't you noticed the pad-people are taking over? The days of high powered A.M. radio had some people receiving signals in their teeth... and that was before Bluetooth and the amplifying effect of solar storms! Will the men aboard the International Space Station come back with unusual powers?

The crew of a Japanese fishing boat was highly irradiated during the era of atomic testing in the Pacific, sparking the creation of the classic Japanese monster movies. Why not have some of this years' events lead to some sci-fi too??

Japanese researchers have been able to produce sperm and perhaps eggs too from stem cells in mice. Is this merely a way to help couples of any gender combination or even a lone individual reproduce (to make Mars a planet of all women, or men perhaps?), or is it a conspiracy of irradiated scientists to produce monster mice from a single mutant?

bright tuesday (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37020648)

so, Black monday is followed by a bright Tuesday

Re:bright tuesday (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37020778)

If anyone actually noticed the date on the article, "Published August 3, 2011" - the solar storms, FYI, were *last week*, and the peak of the impact was last Friday night, and has dropped to pretty much normal since.

Sheesh, if you're gonna panic, at least check something current like spaceweather.com, and not panic over a NatGeo article published about "the coming problem" days after it already came & went, with little impact.

Re:bright tuesday (1)

Old Sparky (675061) | about 3 years ago | (#37021550)

NatGeo IS the coming problem.

Re:bright tuesday (1)

MaWeiTao (908546) | about 3 years ago | (#37022114)

The fact that they're too cool to call themselves National Geographic anymore is evidence of that.

I don't get the American fetish with chopping up words into little bite-sized chunks.

Re:bright tuesday (1)

chromas (1085949) | about 3 years ago | (#37025822)

I believe you mean AmFet

Re:bright tuesday (1)

rhyder128k (1051042) | about 3 years ago | (#37027184)

At least Germans join the words at full length when they make a compound one. Oh, how they must laugh at the feeble Americans.

crazy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37020650)

the sun scares me sometimes

damn the comment system here is bugged up and slow.

Re:crazy (2)

Yvan256 (722131) | about 3 years ago | (#37020900)

If The Sun scares you, why not switch to The New York Times?

Communications disruption can mean only one thing (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37020660)

Invasion

Re:Communications disruption can mean only one thi (1)

craigminah (1885846) | about 3 years ago | (#37025926)

Luckily they discovered antimatter belts recently...those should save us.

Old (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37020678)

This is 2 days old already.

Re:Old (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37020700)

so.
CNN, a major news network with more resources then slashdot, seems to relay news weeks, sometimes months, after the news was originally posted.

Re:Old (0)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | about 3 years ago | (#37020804)

This story is 5 days old already.

FTFY.

Getting to be ho-hum.... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37020682)

The frequency and alarm with which these "OMG!!! Solar storm coming!!!" announcements are made, and the almost total lack of anything perceptibly happening, is quickly becoming a boy-who-cried-wolf situation. It's rather like tornado sirens going off just because there's a nasty storm dropping hail... it happens so frequently that everyone just ignores them, and what good is there in an early warning system if people have been conditioned to disregard it?

Re:Getting to be ho-hum.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37020820)

Yet if they didn't and solar storms created a huge disruption, everyone would be up in arms about the government being asleep at the switch. There will always be people like you to complain about any situation no matter which action is taken instead of simply saying, "Thanks for the warning" and going about your day.

Re:Getting to be ho-hum.... (5, Informative)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | about 3 years ago | (#37020838)

My issue is that Slashdot is "breaking" this story 5 days after National Geographic posted it and days after the storms already past yet the story reads like this is still an imminent event.

Re:Getting to be ho-hum.... (0)

PhinMak (630548) | about 3 years ago | (#37022134)

Mod parent up

Re:Getting to be ho-hum.... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37025742)

Mod parent up

This sort of thing really, really pisses me off. Look, if a post is good I'll mod it up when I have the points; if it's not good I won't mod it up. Quite frankly I couldn't give two figs about your or anyone else's opinion unless I'm meta-moderating.

Tell me, truly, do you really think that your telling people how to spend their point really makes a difference? Does the feeling that you might have effected even the tiniest whit of change make up for not having points of your own? Actually you needn't bother answering, just stop doing it please; posts like these are even more bereft of content than a decent troll, which is at least sometimes amusing. All your comment is good for (figuratively) is inflating your post count.

Re:Getting to be ho-hum.... (1)

isopropanol (1936936) | about 3 years ago | (#37020874)

One of my compact fluorescents let the magic smoke out last night... That's something... Possibly not related.

Re:Getting to be ho-hum.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37021714)

Better evacuate the house lest ye become poisoned by mercury. More srsly, I had one nearly catch my house on fire (flame shot out the base, blackened the shade of a fixture in the bathroom). Thus they are now no longer in my house. Instead I dim normal incandescants with Lutron stuff. Significant power savings.

Re:Getting to be ho-hum.... (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 3 years ago | (#37023056)

One of my compact fluorescents let the magic smoke out last night... That's something... Possibly not related.

That's nothing. I had to reboot my MacPro! It's either Solar Flares or the End of the World is Nigh Upon Us!

Re:Getting to be ho-hum.... (1)

Will.Woodhull (1038600) | about 3 years ago | (#37024624)

That sounds nasty. Breathing vaporized Hg and all that. Any mad as a hatter symptoms?

Re:Getting to be ho-hum.... (1)

BluBrick (1924) | about 3 years ago | (#37026912)

Any mad as a hatter symptoms?

Well, he is posting to slashdot...

Re:Getting to be ho-hum.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37023400)

Not sure what's been going on where you live but where I live there has been absolutely massive electrical storms for the last few days.

Re:Getting to be ho-hum.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37026298)

Atmospheric scientists have discovered that crises beget funding (see: ozone layer hole, global warming.)

Cell service, too (3, Informative)

Matt_Bennett (79107) | about 3 years ago | (#37020696)

Cellular service from CDMA providers Sprint could be disrupted as they use GPS trained oscillators to ensure synchronization between towers. Others could be affected as well, but I'm not sure of all that they use for time synchronization. I'd be suprised if they didn't use GPS, as GPS makes an extremely accurate clock very, very, cheap and low power. Sprint uses CDMA which needs decent time synchronization. It is very possible for CDMA to run without a good time reference, but it takes longer (really it's a tradeoff with time, power and hardware) to start up- why a GPS takes some finite amount of time to find your position, for example.

Re:Cell service, too (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 3 years ago | (#37020814)

Just curious, if these systems have decent clocks (I have some servers that NTP-sync once a week and have clock drift compensation, that's all (free) software on regular PC hardware, and it's only off by a tiny fraction of a second after a week) how long could the network stay up if all the towers lost the GPS signal?

Re:Cell service, too (3, Informative)

Cyberax (705495) | about 3 years ago | (#37020914)

We're talking about microsecond-accuracy clocks. Even good quartz clocks drift too fast.

There's the same problem in synchronous optic networks - endpoints _must_ be perfectly synchronized or it doesn't work at all. That's why communication companies are the biggest buyers of precise atomic clocks.

The problem is, a lot of endpoints now use simple GPS receivers and not atomic clocks.

Re:Cell service, too (3, Informative)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | about 3 years ago | (#37021740)

Everything you said is correct, however, in fairness, using a GPS receiver is using an atomic clock (by listening to one) -- the problem arises when your endpoint can't get a signal (say from interference due to solar flares) from said GPS/atomic clock.

Re:Cell service, too (3, Informative)

Matt_Bennett (79107) | about 3 years ago | (#37020964)

Realistically, the accuracy of NTP is in the millisecond range, not close to what you need for CDMA. There is a standard (IEEE1588) that can get you to better than a microsecond, but that requires a specialized hardware PHY. GPS can give you continuous accuracy on the order of hundreds of nano-seconds easily, and it's not a huge expense to get to 10s of nanoseconds.

Re:Cell service, too (1)

tzanger (1575) | about 3 years ago | (#37022612)

Actually it's not the PHY that's special for IEEE1588, it's the MAC. It has "fast path" hardware which can accurately timestamp/send out IEEE1588 frames.

Re:Cell service, too (2)

SrJsignal (753163) | about 3 years ago | (#37021894)

You'd be correct, except you're not. Sprint (and anyone who really cares about time sync) doesn't use "cheap, low power" GPS time synchronization. They use relatively expensive rubidium backed gps trained oscillators which give a stability of 5x10^-11 seconds / month stability without gps lock. All these systems need is to have been synchronized to gps at some point, once they have that they are good to go for a long time as long as they don't lose power. They aren't using some ghetto cell phone gps clock. They use stuff more like this: http://www.spectracomcorp.com/ProductsServices/TimingSynchronization/GPSTimeFrequencyReferences/SecureSyncSynchronizationSystem/tabid/1304/Default.aspx [spectracomcorp.com]

Then fix it... (3, Insightful)

Arlet (29997) | about 3 years ago | (#37020710)

Why are the power companies warning us ? There's nothing we can do. It's their responsibility to keep the grid running, not ours.

If it takes so long to get a replacement transformer, they should have ordered a couple years ago, and kept them as spares.

Re:Then fix it... (2)

freaxeh (1962440) | about 3 years ago | (#37020782)

Considering that one like the 1859 Solar Storm could wipe out 50% of all transformers in the USA, that would be a pretty large and costly pile of rotting transformers to keep on spare "just incase".

Re:Then fix it... (2)

Arlet (29997) | about 3 years ago | (#37020832)

Maybe they can think of other solutions too. Perhaps the grid could be shut down and transformers removed from the power lines before they got ruined. Or built transformers with higher DC tolerance. But yeah, if there is no other option, keeping a large number of rotting transformers on spare is still a better idea than hoping another 1859 won't happen again.

Re:Then fix it... (1)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | about 3 years ago | (#37020862)

than hoping another 1859 won't happen again.

There is no need for hope. The storms passed and as you can see, nothing happened. Slashdot is just once again days late to the party.

Re:Then fix it... (2)

Arlet (29997) | about 3 years ago | (#37020916)

There is no need for hope. The storms passed and as you can see, nothing happened.

I wasn't just talking about this particular storm. We'll need the grid for the next couple of solar cycles as well, and it would be smart to take the necessary precautions before the next killer CME is already on its way to Earth.

Re:Then fix it... (1)

Desler (1608317) | about 3 years ago | (#37020936)

Yes, and yours are apparently unnecessary precautions since as we can see, nothing happened. If you want to foot the bill for all those $10 million dollar transformers, go ahead. Just don't lump us in with hiked up energy bills due to your overreactions.

Re:Then fix it... (1)

Arlet (29997) | about 3 years ago | (#37020988)

Yes, and yours are apparently unnecessary precautions since as we can see, nothing happened

Well, then we don't need all those silly warning stories either, if nothing is ever going to happen anyway.

Re:Then fix it... (1)

Dunega (901960) | about 3 years ago | (#37022024)

Feel free to ignore them then. I'd rather know that something could happen, even if there was nothing I could do about it.

Re:Then fix it... (1)

freaxeh (1962440) | about 3 years ago | (#37020970)

than hoping another 1859 won't happen again.

There is no need for hope. The storms passed and as you can see, nothing happened. Slashdot is just once again days late to the party.

http://www.solarstorms.org/SRefStorms.html [solarstorms.org]

mmm, I like to err on the side of caution, especially when history paints a different story.

Re:Then fix it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37021020)

It's balancing a few weeks/months of disruption against an ongoing cost that's not been required in 150 years. At a time when power companies are already jacking up prices, how do you think people would respond to having to pay even more to keep a bunch of redundant generators in working order? Worst case, power is limited to essential services until replacements can be dropped in, and that's assuming insane levels of damage. Anyone who lived through the 70s when blackouts were common knows that, while annoying, this is perfectly survivable and likely preferable to a huge ongoing maintenance cost.

Re:Then fix it... (1)

kryliss (72493) | about 3 years ago | (#37022400)

Back in the 70's people weren't so dependent on their little gadgets and gizmos... Many people these days can't seem to survive without them.

Re:Then fix it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37023704)

But yeah, if there is no other option, keeping a large number of rotting transformers on spare is still a better idea than hoping another 1859 won't happen again.

As long as they don't charge it to the customers, right?

Re:Then fix it... (1)

scharkalvin (72228) | about 3 years ago | (#37021162)

Keep in mind we are talking about the largest transformers that are found at substations close to the power plants themselves. There are enough spare transformers in stock to replace any neighborhood 'pole pigs' that fail. These are the ones you will see on the utility pole outside your house. Even the larger transformers that are on the outskirts of town where a main feed line comes in and branches out are quite common. The worry is the REALLY HUGH transformers that feed the cross country lines.

Re:Then fix it... (1)

cusco (717999) | about 3 years ago | (#37025646)

To expand on this comment a bit . . . the really big transformers, switches and relays are all custom-made with backorder times of 3 months to >1 year. The utilities generally carry one or two of each type as spares, but when the primary and spare are gone that's it until the replacement is built. There are only a couple of companies that make them, so if you have a dozen go up in smoke, either by solar or terrorist activity, the utilities are SOL for a **LONG** time. And no, there's no way around this without major changes to the way the electrical grid is put together.

Re:Then fix it... (1)

Bengie (1121981) | about 3 years ago | (#37024314)

Year ago I read about this stuff. There is a relatively cheap and simple fix that allows high DC current to short strait to ground instead of going through the transformer.

Too bad our government hasn't cared to enforce the use of such devices to protect us from a nation wide black out if a solar storm did hit us.

Re:Then fix it... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37020792)

Substation power transformers are large, expensive items ($5-10,000,000 each) which are tailored to a specific site. They will have different ratings, cooling needs, impedances and connections. So your solution is to duplicate every one of these?
I'm sure the utilities would be happy to buy double, but are you willing to pay extra on your electricity bill?

Re:Then fix it... (2)

Arlet (29997) | about 3 years ago | (#37020864)

So your solution is to duplicate every one of these?

My solution is to ask the power companies to take care of the problem, in the most efficient way possible. If there's a better way than buying double, they are more than welcome to use it.

For instance, the replacement could be a slightly different type, as long it could provide a reasonable service during the time it takes to repair it properly.

And of course, if the electricity bill must go up, then it must go up. It still beats a one-year power outage while they order a new transformer.

Re:Then fix it... (1)

Amouth (879122) | about 3 years ago | (#37021008)

So your solution is to duplicate every one of these?

My solution is to ask the power companies to take care of the problem, in the most efficient way possible. If there's a better way than buying double, they are more than welcome to use it.

...

the cheapest and most obvious solution is for them to disconnect transmission lines from sub stations ahead of the storm and ground them - then after it has passed reconnect. to do this on a large scale would take days head of the storm and days behind.. so best case ~1-2 weeks.

personally i'd be fine with it.. but i have this odd feeling that most of the rest of the world wouldn't.. it's that lovely instant gratification feeling that people seem to have..

Re:Then fix it... (1)

Arlet (29997) | about 3 years ago | (#37021080)

Probably the outage could be shortened by adding more accurate warning and measurement systems, so you only need to disconnect transmission lines when its really necessary.

Even if that means a few days, that's better than letting it fry out, and have an even longer blackout.

Re:Then fix it... (1)

Amouth (879122) | about 3 years ago | (#37021520)

I agree - or they could even put in transfer switches so that they could do it faster - either way it is the option of turning power off to the consumers.. which for the safty and longevity and cost is the logical thing to do - but because people/consumers are not rational - this won't happen and instead we will fry transformers and replace them all in the name of instant gratification.

Re:Then fix it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37021678)

It's not aboutt instant gratification. We depend on electricity to live our daily lives. We need power to transport and store food, to run equipment at hospitals, for security and defense, etc. Some power could be provided with generators, but that would only work for absolutely essential equipment and services. If nothing else, we'd likely have severe food shortages if we completely turned off the power in advance of a solar storm. Obviously, I'd rather not lose power for a year, but we can't turn off the power for a week or two every time there's a solar flare.

Re:Then fix it... (1)

cusco (717999) | about 3 years ago | (#37025690)

The grid won't take it. Shut down half a dozen major transformers in a region without adequate preparation and you'll be melting transmission lines (literally) as the automated systems don't have the brains to adapt correctly. Of course if the transformers blow up on their own simultaneously you still have the same situation, I suppose . . .

Re:Then fix it... (1)

Amouth (879122) | about 3 years ago | (#37025870)

i wasn't in anyways thinking you would have them quick flip on/off but rather be designed to facilitate being disconnected - right now transmission lines are not meant to be disconnected at either end.. there for that task would take considerable time and manpower.

Re:Then fix it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37024704)

I wonder if there is a limit to which if the line length is below this value, then the installed protection equipment as-is is likely to handle the event. The grid operators would have to balance and shed loads to allow the securing of the lines which are longer than this critical length. The grid is all interconnected to allow the sharing of loads between areas with excess generating capability to those without. The longest lines are most likely not used for local distribution but for this sharing between far apart areas. Dividing the grid down into small self powered "islands" will not allow this sharing and my make things more unstable as far as the ability to handle sudden changes in loads but if only for a few days may be worth it. Kinda like if there's a lightning storm and you disconnect your laptops from the house mains. Yes, you can't run that way for long but if the power system takes a nearby hit, your laptop doesn't get fried.

Re:Then fix it... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37020896)

http://www.textile-shop.com/chanel-chanel-purses-c-37_10.html

cloudy possibly sunny with a chance of rain (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37020752)

the third storm could be worse or do nothing. all possibilities neatly covered. i guess solar meteorologists are similar
to the terrestrial kinds.

Where the fuck are Minnesota and Wisconsin? (0)

BlackPignouf (1017012) | about 3 years ago | (#37020774)

For those not well-versed in US geography :

as far south as Minnesota and Wisconsin.

is somewhere between 42.5N and 49N.
This range pretty much includes all Europe (except Portugal/Spain/Italy/Balkans), Russia, Mongolia, and Northern parts of China & Japan.

Re:Where the fuck are Minnesota and Wisconsin? (3, Interesting)

dtmos (447842) | about 3 years ago | (#37020934)

This range pretty much includes all Europe (except Portugal/Spain/Italy/Balkans), Russia, Mongolia, and Northern parts of China & Japan.

This is correct, but it's not correct to assume that people in these areas can expect to see an auroral display just because one is visible in Minnesota. Auroral displays are responsive to geomagnetic [noaa.gov] , not geographic, coordinates, and the geomagnetic coordinates swing south over North America and north over Asia. One would have to be above 60N (geographically) to see an auroral event in Asia visible in Minnesota at 45N.

Ummm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37020786)

to caution users of satellite, telecommunications and electric equipment to prepare for possible disruptions over the next few days

Because satellites and telecommunication equipment aren't "electric"? Do they run on pixie dust? Why not just say "electrical equipment might be affected"?

Re:Ummm... (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | about 3 years ago | (#37020954)

I guess some people would think "telecommunications are done by optic fibers now, electric disturbances won't affect them". You know, people who know just enough information to still be wrong in their logic.

Even better. . . (4, Informative)

dtmos (447842) | about 3 years ago | (#37020812)

might even produce an aurora visible as far south as Minnesota and Wisconsin

The submission is so old, we can say what really happened. Aurora were visible in the United States as far south as Utah [spaceweather.com] , Colorado [spaceweather.com] , and Nebraska [spaceweather.com] . (Tip-'o-the-hat to SpaceWeather.com [spaceweather.com] .)

Not as bad as copper thieves (2)

CuriousGeorge113 (47122) | about 3 years ago | (#37020826)

For all the potential "fire and brimstone" these solar storms have the potential to cause, they still have yet to achieve the level of destruction and disturbance to our power and communications infrastructure as copper scrappers.

I can count at least three incidents this year where I was affected by scrappers removing copper that was in-use (communications and power). I can't think of one instance in my entire life (30 yrs) where a solar storm has caused me a disruption.

Re:Not as bad as copper thieves (3, Funny)

CubicleView (910143) | about 3 years ago | (#37020884)

This one seems to have disrupted your work though.

The 1989 Quebec Solar Storm, good reading material (4, Informative)

freaxeh (1962440) | about 3 years ago | (#37020858)

I always thought that the 1989 Quebec Solar Storm was a good example of what might occur: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/sun_darkness.html [nasa.gov]

In space, some satellites actually tumbled out of control for several hours. NASA's TDRS-1 communication satellite recorded over 250 anomalies as high-energy particles invaded the satellite's sensitive electronics. Even the Space Shuttle Discovery was having its own mysterious problems. A sensor on one of the tanks supplying hydrogen to a fuel cell was showing unusually high pressure readings on March 13. The problem went away just as mysteriously after the solar storm subsided.

http://www.ips.gov.au/Educational/1/3/12 [ips.gov.au]

Service restoration took more than nine hours. This can be explained by the fact that some of the essential equipment, particularly on the James Bay transmission network, was made unavailable by the blackout. Generation from isolated stations normally intended for export was repatriated to meet Quebec's needs and the utility purchased electricity from Ontario, New Brunswick and the Alcan and McLaren Systems.

By noon, the entire generating and transmission system was back in service, although 17 percent of Quebec customers were still without electricity. In fact, several distribution-system failures occurred because of the high demand typical of Monday mornings, combined with the jump in heating load after several hours without power.

So... It caused a cascading effect, just like the most recent New York blackout, scary stuff if it occured across even a marginal size of the USA.

Why is equipment still susceptible to this? (1)

mkraft (200694) | about 3 years ago | (#37020868)

You'd think in this day and age that things like transformers and the grid could be either shielded against EM radiation or simply add things like surge protectors or circuit breakers to the grid designed to withstand solar storms (or nukes even).

Re:Why is equipment still susceptible to this? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37021042)

It certainly could be shielded - I believe a lot of military hardware is, but it is similar to earthquake proofing buildings in that it is hideously expensive. So without government regulation (evil, evil regulation...), companies that run on profits will certainly not spend the money to protect their systems for an event that might happen once every 100 (?) years. Considering that they aren't able (or willing) to spend the money to improve the infrastructure to deal with 'normal' use (cascading blackouts anyone?)...

And even if they were - to what extend do you need to proof it? A 8 magnitude quake (to extend the earthquake comparison)? 9? 10?

Do you have a plan to shield all tha wire? (2)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | about 3 years ago | (#37021460)

Remember the problem isn't the transformers themselves. They aren't getting hit with enough directly to cause a problem. It is the thousands and thousands of miles of wire having current induced in them, which then goes to the transformers.

If you have a suggestion for how to shield all that, for a cost that is reasonable, well I'm sure they'd love to hear it.

If all they had to do was shield large transformers, well that might be done but it isn't that simple.

In terms of surge suppressors, do you understand the magnitude of what you are talking about? We aren't talking about line voltage, you are talking about things that operate 300,000-800,000 volt range and thousands of amps. That is what the major distribution lines operate at.

Not so easy to put a surge protector on that. I don't even know how you'd design an effective one at that level, much less how much it'd cost.

Re:Do you have a plan to shield all tha wire? (3, Interesting)

dissy (172727) | about 3 years ago | (#37022110)

Not so easy to put a surge protector on that. I don't even know how you'd design an effective one at that level, much less how much it'd cost.

For the "low" amperage lines that operate under a few thousand amps, they actually do make surge fuses rated for that amperage. They are pretty interesting, using a special mixture of basically sand. At a high enough amperage level, the sand melts into glass and expands destroying the connectivity metal and turning into a non-conductor.

Granted, these are more like fuses than surge suppressors, and need replacing after being 'blown', but they do protect the low end transformers.

For the very long transmission lines at high amperage however, I do not believe there are any solutions in place to handle that type of energy.

Either way, your point stands. What we can do about the problem is very limited, and requires manual intervention with a lot of lead time.

Re:Why is equipment still susceptible to this? (1)

rkflash (2432522) | about 3 years ago | (#37021476)

You can deploy ground-induced current monitors on transformers and tie it in to a protection scheme of your choosing, so it's not as if there's no options whatsoever.

Because of the inputs ... (2)

oneiros27 (46144) | about 3 years ago | (#37021484)

EM shielding won't help as it's not that the transformers themselves are directly affected ...

The long power lines act as antenna, so it comes in as a surge in the normal input (or feedback from the output). I know it's not cost-effective to re-string every power line with something that's shielded (and that in turn could reduce the transmission ability, as they don't like making power cables more than about 5cm thick, so you minimize wind and ice loads).

So, you'd have to put in some sort of a surge suppressor into the transformer ... which of course adds cost, but also gives you something else that can go wrong ... and for something that only happens once a decade, it might not be worth the potential for extra failures, the possible efficiency loss, etc.

As for circuit breakers ... wasn't that what took out the whole north-east when Ohio lost a section of their grid?

Re:Because of the inputs ... (1)

rkflash (2432522) | about 3 years ago | (#37021594)

As for circuit breakers ... wasn't that what took out the whole north-east when Ohio lost a section of their grid?

Yes it was, because the circuit breakers/protection were the only things that did their job properly that day

What the hell is International Business Times? (2)

niktemadur (793971) | about 3 years ago | (#37020998)

On Google News, IBT's headlines on the subject are:
Massive Solar Storm Could Cause Catastrophic Nuclear Threat in US
as well as
Severe Solar Storm to Create Global Chaos and Complete Darkness
and
Solar Storm Watch: Could This be Armageddon?

It's not even about "whoever screams the loudest gets the attention" anymore, it's just a loud, hollow mindset, by default. Sheesh.

Re:What the hell is International Business Times? (1)

arth1 (260657) | about 3 years ago | (#37022784)

Solar Storm Watch: Could This be Armageddon?

Nah, that's in October, innit?

How do we know the third storm is coming? (1)

jordan314 (1052648) | about 3 years ago | (#37021124)

This is hurting my brain a little. How do we know a third storm is coming when it's traveling at the speed of light toward us? Don't we detect storms by seeing them from earth, when the EM radiation has already traveled here? I'm guessing maybe we have sensors closer to it? Also doesn't it only take 8 minutes for sunlight to hit the earth?

Re:How do we know the third storm is coming? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37021718)

This is hurting my brain a little. How do we know a third storm is coming when it's traveling at the speed of light toward us?

The photons from a solar storm (primarily, the x-rays) travel at the speed of light.

What's damaging, though, are the charged particles (primarily protons) emitted by the sun. These do not travel at the speed of light.

So you see it coming before it gets here.

Re:How do we know the third storm is coming? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37021870)

Because it's not traveling at the speed of light. No where close.

It's a big cloud of plasma kicked off from the surface of the sun. The magnetic fields and charged particles within that cloud are the "storm," not the EM radiation from the solar flare itself.

Re:How do we know the third storm is coming? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37021960)

CMEs don't travel at the speed of light.

Re:How do we know the third storm is coming? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37022286)

The disruption is not traveling at the speed of light. The particles leaving the sun travel ~560 miles per second. That would take just over 3 days to reach Earth.

Re:How do we know the third storm is coming? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37022472)

The storm isn't travelling at the speed of light. We're talking about a bunch of charged particles in the form of solar wind, not gamma rays. This stuff takes 2-3 days to get here.

Re:How do we know the third storm is coming? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37022522)

A photon is the basic unit of light and all other electromagnetic radiation (radio waves/etc), it has no mass, and travels at the speed of light. When the Sun produces a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), the key word is "mass" -- on average a CME contains about 1.7 billion tons of matter. Matter cannot travel at the speed of light. So 8 minutes after the CME, the photons arrive and you can observe that there was a CME. But the actual mass usually takes 1 to 5 days to arrive here from the Sun.

Re:How do we know the third storm is coming? (1)

afaiktoit (831835) | about 3 years ago | (#37023152)

Its not the EM radiation, its the shit load of particles hitting the earths magnetic field that comes later.

Re:How do we know the third storm is coming? (1)

Bengie (1121981) | about 3 years ago | (#37024382)

Not at the speed of light, but quite fast. Talking only hours to travel 92 mil miles

Dumb question, but... (2)

Joey Vegetables (686525) | about 3 years ago | (#37021828)

Could these storms have interfered with WiFi? I had a few days during which I could not get my home network to work at all, in spite of maximum 40 foot / 13 meter distances between router and PCs, and trying pretty much every legal WiFi channel available. I'm in northeast Ohio. As of this morning things are gradually returning to almost-normal.

What will my car do? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37022004)

With a computer in the car controlling fuel injection and everything else, I can imagine the car would, at worst, destroy the engine, but more likely fall somewhere on a continuum from stopping temporarily to running rough for the duration of the storm. Any other predictions?

Children of the sun (1)

questhe (62545) | about 3 years ago | (#37022570)

People of the earth can you hear me? ...

We are expecting ships to come in one by one.

Oh, it's over? damn. They snuck in.

Or ... (2)

powerlord (28156) | about 3 years ago | (#37022826)

FTFS:

'[The third storm] could exacerbate the disturbance in the Earth's magnetic field caused by the second (storm) or do nothing at all.'"

Oh ... is that why my TV is suddenly picking up the ISS.

I figured it was just a new odd run of Big Brother.

I LOVED the episode where they voted the astronaut off the station at the same point the Solar Storm passed through! Gave him super powers he used to swing back and exact his revenge. ... no ... wait ... that was just a troubled fever dream from lasagna too late. So hard to keep track whats "reality" TV.

No time anyway? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37025536)

iirc from my High School days, don't we only have 8 minutes to react to anything like this anyway before we're already hit by it? What is the point of telling us to brace for stuff when we don't have time to react.

Am I missing something?

Re:No time anyway? (1)

BluBrick (1924) | about 3 years ago | (#37027030)

iirc from my High School days, don't we only have 8 minutes to react to anything like this anyway before we're already hit by it? What is the point of telling us to brace for stuff when we don't have time to react.

Am I missing something?

Yes, you are. [slashdot.org]

Circuses (1)

Msdose (867833) | about 3 years ago | (#37026978)

Good thing we have stories like this to disable our awareness as the government prepares full-scale communism as the only solution to the problems that their small-scale communism caused.
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