Marketplace has a new podcast for kids, "Million Bazillion!" EPISODE OUT NOW

Scientists warn solar flares could disrupt power grid

Alisa Roth Jun 8, 2010
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Scientists warn solar flares could disrupt power grid

Alisa Roth Jun 8, 2010
HTML EMBED:
COPY

by Alisa Roth

Space weather scientists meet in Washington, D.C. tomorrow to discuss the potential problems of solar flares, eruptions on the sun’s surface that can cause massive disruptions in the electrical power grid.

Solar flares send off little bursts of radiation that travel down to the Earth, and can impact communications systems, GPS systems, satellites, power grids, aviation interests and polar regions, according to Bill Murtagh, who works at the Space Weather Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

And he says get ready for more: Solar activity comes in cycles, and the next one starts in 2013. “It could be ugly: a storm could disrupt credit card and ATM transactions. Cell phone networks could go.” According to Murtagh, the entire power grid could get zapped, which could cause trillions of dollars of damage.

W Kent Tobiska runs a company that does space weather forecasting. He says we can predict sun storms better, but it may not help. “Frankly right now, there is probably not an immediate solution, but certainly a necessity to plan for contingencies in case those kinds of things happen.

Scientists say there have been big sun storms before, but we’ve never been this dependent on the technology they can disrupt.

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.