Solar Shocks from Auroras May Threaten Earth's Power Grids

Solar Shocks from Auroras May Threaten Earth's Power Grids

Research conducted by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center has identified the critical role that the angle of interplanetary shocks plays in generating geomagnetically induced currents (GICs). These currents, which are triggered by solar events, can potentially damage Earth's electrical infrastructure, including pipelines and submarine cables. The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences, used data from interplanetary shocks and electrical currents from a natural gas pipeline in Mäntsälä, Finland, to analyze the effects. Findings indicate that head-on shocks compress Earth's magnetic field more intensely, leading to stronger GICs and greater risk to infrastructure.

The research highlights that forecasting the angle of these shocks up to two hours in advance could provide critical time to safeguard vulnerable infrastructure. Historical data show that significant geomagnetic storms, such as the one in 1989, caused severe disruptions, including a nine-hour shutdown of the Hydro-Quebec power system in Canada. The study's lead author, Dr. Denny Oliveira, pointed out that while powerful shocks create the most intense GICs, even frequent, less powerful shocks can cause considerable damage. Further research and better data collection from power companies are needed to improve forecasting and mitigation strategies.

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