Why space weather matters
The volatile surface of the sun is responsible for “space weather” that can affect Earth. Our atmosphere and magnetic field protect what’s below it from almost all such events, so solar weather went unnoticed until 1859. However, humans and their technology did not stay on the ground, making us increasingly vulnerable to the unpredictabilities of the sun.
Vulnerable to space weather
These explosions on the sun’s surface occur without warning and can launch huge amounts of X-rays, other radiation and particles into the ionosphere, the outer edge of Earth’s atmosphere.
Coronal mass ejections
These slow-moving “space hurricanes” occur when the sun ejects part of its outer atmosphere.
Streams of gas particles and magnetic clouds pour from the sun’s surface in all directions.
Earth’s magnetic field
It is least protective around the polar regions, so those areas are most easily disrupted by solar weather.
Satellites and GPS devices
Radiation storms can befuddle satellites, delaying or garbling radio waves and mucking up sensitive electronic controls.
International space station
No humans are closer — therefore more vulnerable — to space radiation than residents of the space station.
Aboveground pipelines can conduct stray currents and become corroded. Alaska’s lines are vulnerable because they’re so near the North Pole.
Power lines can conduct currents that develop in the ionosphere. The grid is so interconnected that a few blown transformers can cripple a large area.
Transmissions that depend on low-frequency radio waves become unreliable, especially near the North Pole.
Because water processing and distribution depend so heavily on electricity, a major loss of power would affect water delivery within days.
Note: Sun and Earth are shown to approximate scale,
but distance is not to scale.