Storms from the Sun: Tracking the Weather that Targets Society's Electrical Side

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Wednesday, 5 February 2014: 8:30 AM
Room C110 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Karel Schrijver, Lockheed Martin Advance Technology Center, Palo Alto, CA

The weather patterns of the Sun are powerful, ever changing, and mesmerizingly beautiful. They drive explosions of literally astronomical proportions that can escape the Sun's gravity to affect all of the planets from nearby Mercury to distant Uranus, including Earth. Space storms involve a force that we generally ignore in our daily lives: magnetism. This force can heat gases to millions of degrees, can speed up atoms to be as dangerous as radioactivity, and can force electromagnetic storms into the the electrical power grid. But although the terminology may be unfamiliar, space weather follows the laws of physics: storm paths can be forecast and storms lead to predictable consequences around Earth. We are rapidly increasing our understanding of how solar storms become space weather, but the Sun is a big object and the space between it and Earth is vast. We combine the sparse observational coverage of all that space with computer models to help us view the activity of the Sun-Earth system. Thus, we increasingly grasp how three apparently distinct types of space weather originate from explosive lightning storms on the star next door that affect satellites, radio signals, and high-voltage power lines.