Coming Solar Flares Could Disrupt Power

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    NASA

    If your cell phone calls start dropping like crazy over the next few summers, don't blame your carrier. Blame the same force that could cut power to your home and ground airline flights.

    The sun.

    Solar flare activity is expected to hit a peak over the next 20 months, hitting a peak in June 2013, according to the San Francisco Examiner. Solar flares, intense bursts of energy on the sun's surface, occur every 11 years or so, and the next "on" cycle is coming up.

    Solar flares create radiation as well as electromagnetic charges, the kind of disruptions known to science fiction movie buffs to wreak all kinds of havor, from nuclear meltdowns to knocking down satellites. But it's not all sci-fi: solar flares cut a power grid in Canada in 1989, cutting power to millions of people, the newspaper reported.

    Before the flares hit, California utilities must prepare: transformers must be strengthened in order to withstand the radiation sensation, especially the transformers connected to the state's two nuclear power plants, utility regulators say.

    Exactly how powerful or damaging a flare will truly be is up to debate. Industry insiders like PG&E say the risk is much greater in northern states and Canada that it is in California, while a federal report issued a few years ago said that a large flare could knock out 300 transformers nationwide.

    Stanford scientists, however, say they are developing technology that will be able to predict a flare. Thank goodness for the smart kids.