Transcript of "Blackout: The Sun-Earth Connection", Part 4: When Solar Plasma Distorts Earth's Magnetic Field

When the Earth's magnetic field is pushed and pulled by this onslaught of solar plasma, it creates huge currents in the ground. These currents can flow into power transformers, damaging them. They can trip circuit breakers and cause anything from flickering lights to wide spread and potentially dangerous power outages.

Solar storms cause static interference and interrupt the transmission of radio signals. Solar storms also interfere with television and telephone signals.

These storms can effect airplane and ship navigation. And believe it or not, solar storms can cause pipelines to corrode much faster than normal. The Alaskan oil pipeline workers must take special measures to insure that this corrosion does not occur.

It's important to note that since that infamous blackout of 1989, technology has advanced tremendously. Computers have gotten smaller and faster, there are almost 100 million more people using cellular phones today than in 1989. And we have come to rely heavily on satellites - very complex and expensive satellites. We rely on satellites for television, long distance telephone calls, bank transactions, weather forecasting, global positioning, research, defense and much more.

Solar storms can damage orbiting satellites in a variety of ways. Satellites can become confused during a solar storm. These storms can cause satellites to descend in their orbit or even reenter the Earth's atmosphere prematurely. And, as the magnetosphere gets pushed, and pulled, by the impact of solar plasma, massive electrical charges are generated in space, where satellites orbit the earth. This can cause a huge electrical charge to build up on the outer surface of satellites. It's very much like static electricity. If this electrical charge discharges inside the satellite, it can cripple or destroy it.

And, what about astronauts working in space? The construction of the International Space Station requires more spacewalks than all, previous spacewalks combined. These men and women will be working outside the protective cover of the Space Shuttle and Space Station for 4 to 6 hours at a time. They could be in grave danger if caught unaware by a solar storm. Not only must astronauts be concerned about the build up of electrical charges, but solar storms, bring a lot of harmful radiation with them.

Just as mankind is unable to control hurricanes, we are equally powerless against solar storms sent our way by the sun. We can, however, strive to predict track and prepare for these storms in much the same was we do with hurricanes.