NASA to report on impact of sun flares

NASA's depiction of a sun storm

Jeremy Hobson: Today NASA and NOAA scientists will give us a weather report for outer space. They'll give predictions for a new solar flare season that could wreak havoc on technology, as Marketplace's Eve Troeh reports.


Eve Troeh: Every 11 years, the sun's magnetic fields intensify and shoot explosions of electrons into space.

Christopher Null: Which can impact satellites, like GPS, satellite TV and satellite radio.

Technology writer Christopher Null says the only thing companies can do is turn off their satellites when scientists see a flare.

Null: Just like if you have your laptop and you know you're about to drop it, it'd be better if it's off than if it's on.

But the flares are unpredictable, overall. We do know we're going to see a lot more of them in the next five years or so, says Joe Kunches at the government's Space Weather Prediction Center. And if Earth gets in the path of one of those explosions:

Joe Kunches: It introduces more energy into the earth's magnetic field.

Our atmosphere gets electrified.

Kunches: It's like, 'Oh my god, what are we going to do with this energy?'

Whole power grids have fried in past electromagnetic storms. One study says a major solar storm today could cause up to $2 trillion in damage. The only real defense for tech and power companies? To keep a closer eye on the sun.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

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